Variolation — Before Vaccines

Vaccines are a hot topic in the recent years. Many have strong opinions about it. Yes, we are entitled to our points of view but when it comes to making decisions that will impact the entire population, we have to take full responsibility to make educated, informed decisions.

Vaccines today are quite sophisticated, but it came from a crude beginning.

I initially thought that the earliest attempt of vaccination was by Edward Jenner in the 18th century, where he inoculated a boy with cowpox pus, essentially, that protected the boy from developing smallpox (Riedel, 2005).

To my surprise, I stumbled upon a website called “The history of vaccines” that shows this intriguing figure below, which suggests that “variolation” was performed in China as early as the 16th century (Leung, 2011; Boylston, 2012), and possibly even earlier:

Screen Shot 2019-05-12 at 1.07.54 PM

Photo taken from the website: The history of vaccines.

In addition to such practice in China, there is also evidence that variolation was performed in the Middle East as well, before its introduction to England and North America (Boylston, 2012). How interesting!

In light of the current events, like the measles outbreak, I wonder how we can retain the history and building on the knowledge as a population, instead of letting such memories fade in time. How ironic that the memory loss happens in such an info-ready society. It seems that accessibility alone is not enhancing our population’s growth.

I wish that we, humans, carry on the torch and keep expanding the work of the likes of Edward Jenner, Jonas Salk or Louis Pasteur, to name a few, instead of destroying it!

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