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From Cows to Cures

The story of vaccines—coined from the Latin word for cow—begins in 1796.


Edward Jenner

The Edward Jenner Museum,


Edward Jenner discovers that cowpox virus injected in humans prevents smallpox. He coins the word vaccine from vacca, Latin for cow.

Louis Pasteur, Joseph Meister, rabies vaccine

Courtesy Institut Pasteur


Louis Pasteur injects his untested rabies vaccine into Joseph Meister, the victim of an attack by a rabid dog. The nine-year-old recovers.

Diphtheria is deadly


A toxoid vaccine is developed to combat diphtheria. Though the poisons produced by the bacteria are neutralized, the body creates antibodies in response to their presence.

Jonas Salk

By permission of the family of Jonas Salk/March of Dimes


Jonas Salk tests his polio vaccine on more than 600,000 subjects, using inactivated (dead) polio virus. In 1955 the vaccine is licensed for mass inoculations.


Laguna Design/Photo Researchers Inc.


Cutter Laboratories mistakenly produces two lots of polio vaccines containing virulent polio virus. At least 164 people are permanently paralyzed and 10 die.

Albert Sabin, oral polio vaccine


An oral polio vaccine, developed by Albert Sabin, is licensed. Unlike Salk’s, this vaccine uses a live, attenuated virus, which requires no boosters.


Alfred Pasieka/Photo Researchers, Inc.


A vaccine against measles, developed by Maurice Hilleman, is licensed; it’s the beginning of the end to a scourge affecting hundreds of thousands of children each year.

Maurice Hilleman

Courtesy Merck


Hilleman’s mumps vaccine, begun with a swab from his daughter’s throat, is licensed, and the first dose, of an estimated 150 million to date, is administered.

Smallpox vaccinations

James Gathany/CDC


Five years after routine smallpox vaccinations cease in the United States, the last known natural case is reported in Somalia.

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations

Prashant Panjiar/Courtesy The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helps form the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations. The foundation’s contributions to GAVI total nearly $1 billion.


Courtesy Merck


Gardasil, a vaccine against some types of human papillomavirus (HPV), is licensed, offering protection from one known cause of cervical cancer.

Vaccine challenges

Karen Kasmauski/Getty Images


AIDS researchers from around the world will gather in October in Cape Town to discuss one of the most pressing—and frustrating—vaccine challenges.


Prevention’s New Profits

Vaccine vials

Once poised to defeat infectious disease, vaccines beat a long retreat. Now they’re back, and gaining new ground.

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