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Episode
117

A Short History of Vaccines

Dec 22, 2020
How Stuff Works
-
22
minutes
Health
Medicine
Death
Pandemic
The Victorian Era
Conspiracy theories

Vaccination is one of the most important medical inventions in history, and vaccines save hundreds of millions of lives every year.

Discover the fantastic history of vaccines, where they came from, how they have developed, and the problems that governments have in encouraging citizens to actually take them.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about vaccines. 

[00:00:28] You no doubt know what vaccines are, you have probably been vaccinated, and the word ‘vaccine’ has never been in the news more than it has been in the past few weeks.

[00:00:40] But you might not know the history of vaccines, where they come from, how they have developed, how cheap they actually are, and what has caused the rise of the anti-vax movement.

[00:00:53] We have a lot to cover in today’s episode, so let’s get cracking.

[00:00:59] Vaccines have completely changed the way we deal with disease

[00:01:04] It’s almost always easier and cheaper to prevent something from happening in the first place than to cure it when it does happen, and of course our health is no exception.

[00:01:18] In 2020, when there are vaccines for the majority of the diseases that used to cause most premature deaths, it’s easy to take this for granted.

[00:01:30] But stepping back one minute and thinking about the fact that we don’t have to worry about things like smallpox, mumps, polio and tetanus, diseases that used to kill millions of people every single year is a pretty amazing achievement.

[00:01:49] So, firstly, how do vaccines work? 

[00:01:53] The principle is pretty similar, whatever disease the vaccine is trying to prevent.

[00:01:59] A small amount of the germ, often in a killed or weakened state, is put into your body. 

[00:02:09] Most are injections, but occasionally there are some that you take orally, that you swallow.

[00:02:15] And then your body does the rest. 

[00:02:18] Your immune system recognises the germ, it recognises the virus or bacteria, and produces antibodies to fight it.

[00:02:28] It then remembers how to produce these antibodies so that if it encounters this germ in the future, it will be able to fight it naturally before it develops into a disease, and you don’t have to worry about getting that disease again because your body has developed immunity to it.

[00:02:48] As you will know, vaccines differ - some need to be done again after a certain number of years, while others are just done once and are good for life.

[00:02:58] So, this is the general principle - it’s relatively simple.

[00:03:03] But of course, behind everything that appears simple is a huge amount of work and experimentation, and vaccines are no exception.

[00:03:15] Indeed, the first vaccine, or attempted vaccine, is believed to have been developed around 500 years ago, a long time before ‘modern medicine’ was invented.

[00:03:29] Smallpox, otherwise known as variola, was a devastating disease that had existed since the Ancient Egyptians. 

[00:03:39] By the 15th century it had spread to large parts of the globe, and was killing 300,000 people a year in Europe alone.

[00:03:51] It was highly contagious

[00:03:52] You could catch it either by breathing the same air as someone who was infected, or from direct contact.

[00:04:02] You’ve probably seen pictures of what happens to someone when they get smallpox.

[00:04:07] They are normally covered in horrible scabs, and suffer from fever and vomiting.

[00:04:14] And if you got smallpox you had a 30% chance of dying.

[00:04:21] So, not good news at all.

[00:04:25] The first records of attempted vaccination, or technically it was called variolation, but they are very similar things - the first record comes from China, in the 15th century.

[00:04:40] It was discovered that by taking some of the dried scabs, the dried skin of someone who had smallpox and rubbing that on the skin of someone without smallpox, that person would normally develop only a mild infection, and they would recover after a few weeks. 

[00:05:02] If they had this small infection then they were unlikely to get a full blown, dangerous and deadly one.

[00:05:11] The process was still quite dangerous, and between 0.5% and and of people who had this primitive vaccine died from it, because they did develop the full, bad, deadly smallpox.

[00:05:27] But still, 2% is a lot better than 30%, and I certainly think I’d like those odds.

[00:05:35] Knowledge of this method of preventing smallpox spread, and it was popularised in Britain by an aristocratic lady named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 

[00:05:48] She had not only lost her brother to smallpox, but she had also got it, recovered, and was left with terrible scars on her face. She heard about this process of variolation, she had it done on her children, and started promoting it in Britain.

[00:06:09] Early experiments with this process proved encouraging, and the Royal Family was impressed, trusting it with their own children. 

[00:06:19] It hit a major roadblock though when a son of King George III, a boy called Prince Octavius, the eighth son, as you might be able to guess from the name, died after being given this treatment.

[00:06:35] Despite the loss of the prince, this primitive version of vaccination went from strength to strength

[00:06:43] It was quite easy to do, and doctors developed new and innovative ways of doing it. 

[00:06:51] The key thing they were trying to achieve was to reduce the strength of the smallpox virus that was given to the person, which they did through things like drying it and burying it in the ground before giving it to the patient. 

[00:07:08] By the 18th century, the practice was widespread throughout Europe, as well as the United States, although there was still a non-zero chance of you actually getting smallpox from it and dying. 

[00:07:23] So, it was better than nothing, but still imperfect.

[00:07:28] Towards the end of the 18th century British doctors had noticed something strange about dairy farmers, about cow farmers. They rarely got smallpox, but they did get something called cowpox, which was similar but significantly less lethal.

[00:07:50] A man named Edward Jenner hypothesised that if someone was given a small amount of the cowpox virus, instead of smallpox, this might have the effect of immunising them against smallpox.

[00:08:08] On 14 May 1796 he tried out this theory on an eight year old boy, the son of Jenner’s gardener. 

[00:08:18] The boy developed some very mild symptoms, but then recovered. And when they tried to infect him with smallpox a few weeks later, he didn’t get it. 

[00:08:31] He was immune.

[00:08:33] Jenner had done it, he had found a way to safely vaccinate against smallpox.

[00:08:40] Of course, more tests needed to be done, but this was the basis of vaccination. Indeed the term ‘vaccination’ comes from Jenner’s invention - vacca is cow in Latin.

[00:08:54] Jenner has been called the father of immunology, and this discovery is thought to have saved more lives than the work of any other human.

[00:09:05] By the year 1840 the previous process of immunisation, variolation, which used the real smallpox virus, was banned, and Jenner’s method was the approved one promoted by the British government.

[00:09:21] There were philanthropic missions that travelled throughout the Americas and East Asia giving people this vaccine, inoculating them and saving them from the disease

[00:09:34] And even Napoleon, in the middle of a war with Britain, gave every one of his soldiers Jenner’s smallpox vaccine and awarded Jenner a medal.

[00:09:46] By the start of the 20th century, smallpox had been virtually eradicated in the developed world, however it was spiralling out of control in the developing world.

[00:09:59] It’s estimated that it killed 300 million people in the 20th century. 

[00:10:06] There was a huge, global effort to eradicate the disease, using a vaccine that was based on the one Jenner had discovered 150 years earlier, and on May 8, 1980 it was declared to be eradicated by the World Health Assembly, the decision making body of the World Health Organisation.

[00:10:29] After Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, vaccines for other diseases continued to be discovered. 

[00:10:35] Louis Pasteur developed the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax, and we now have vaccines for dozens of diseases that used to kill millions of people every year.

[00:10:50] Vaccination is promoted by pretty much every government, and often subsidised to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

[00:10:59] It’s much cheaper to vaccinate someone than to care for them if they get sick, and so governments don’t just do it for moral reasons - there are some very good economic reasons for them to encourage it as well.

[00:11:16] But, for as long as vaccines have been around, there have been people who have been opposed to them, who do not want to take them for all sorts of reasons, from religious to moral to scientific to health to people just believing that they don’t work.

[00:11:33] And despite the billions of people around the world who have been vaccinated safely, and the hundreds of millions of deaths that have been prevented, as you'll no doubt know, the proportion of people who are sceptical about vaccinations has never been higher.

[00:11:52] Indeed, even in 2019, before COVID-19, vaccine scepticism, or anti vax, was listed as one of the top 10 global health threats by the WHO, by the World Health Organisation.

[00:12:10] The reason is that for a disease to be completely eradicated and for it to not have a chance to be transmitted again, as many people as possible need to be immune to it. 

[00:12:23] The more people who aren’t immune to a particular disease, the more bodies, the more homes, that disease has, and the greater the probability is that it can return.

[00:12:36] You’ve probably heard a lot about this in the past few months, and have heard the term ‘herd immunity’. 

[00:12:44] To recap, herd immunity is the idea that if enough people in the population are immune to a disease or virus this means it can’t spread as fast as it would if nobody was immune, and this protects the population.

[00:13:03] Modern anti vax ideas typically include anything from doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines through to a belief that they actively cause you harm, and other, more wild and dangerous conspiracy theories.

[00:13:19] We’re not going to give these the benefit of any real consideration here today, as they have all been debunked, proved wrong by pretty much every serious health professional, but there is one famous case that it is worth mentioning.

[00:13:36] And that is the belief that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, the Mumps, Measles and Rubella vaccine, and autism

[00:13:47] Now, this theory has been completely debunked, it has been proved to not be true. 

[00:13:54] The man who proposed it has been struck off the medical register, he is no longer allowed to practice medicine, and the journal in which the theory was originally published has removed it. 

[00:14:08] So there is absolutely no proof that it’s true, but it has remained the most famous and dangerous conspiracy theory about vaccines.

[00:14:18] In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, then a doctor and academic, published a paper in a reputable medical journal called The Lancet suggesting that there was a link between this vaccine and autism

[00:14:36] Evidently, that would be a terrible thing, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare that by trying to protect their child, they are actually harming them.

[00:14:47] The news of Wakefield’s discovery or proposal soon spread, he called a press conference and called for this vaccine to be stopped until more research was done. 

[00:15:01] But, it turned out that these claims were completely false. 

[00:15:07] The laboratory in which the tests had been conducted, had made several mistakes, and there was absolutely no evidence that this vaccine caused autism.

[00:15:19] Whatsmore, Wakefield hadn’t revealed that he had a financial interest in attacking this particular vaccine, as he was developing a different one.

[00:15:30] So the entire thing was a fraud, but the damage was done. 

[00:15:35] Just the mention of the possibility that this vaccine could cause autism was enough, even if it has proved to be a complete lie.

[00:15:46] Wakefield didn’t start the anti vax movement, but he was the highest profile person to be involved with it, and is now a frequent campaigner at antivax protests and is a sort of figurehead for the anti vax movement.

[00:16:06] And as you know, this movement is growing.

[00:16:09] There was a survey in 2019 that suggested that 40% of Americans doubt vaccine safety, and parents who have the means, who either live in countries where vaccines are free, or who have the financial ability to pay for them are increasingly refusing to vaccinate their children.

[00:16:33] The effect of this is, as expected, a return of some of the diseases that these vaccines were created to prevent. 

[00:16:43] In the year 2000 the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the main body for infectious diseases in the US declared that ‘measles’ had been eliminated throughout the United States. 

[00:16:57] Eliminated in this case means that there had been no transmission for 12 consequent months.

[00:17:05] But with the rise of the anti vax movement, and more and more parents refusing to give their children vaccinations, measles came back. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 there were 60 cases, then 220 the next year, and in 2019 there were 1282 cases. In 2020 the cases will drop dramatically, but that’s only due to COVID and people being inside - if there had been no COVID, no doubt it would have increased.

[00:17:42] And it’s not just in the US. 

[00:17:44] It’s growing the world over, as there is growing distrust in government institutions and information, or rather misinformation, spreads more easily and faster than ever, thanks to the internet, social networks and messaging apps.

[00:18:01] This has got governments scratching their heads, with no country really sure what to do about it. 

[00:18:10] In some countries, especially less developed countries, it’s thought to be a question of education and providing the right information about the effectiveness of vaccines. 

[00:18:24] The theory goes that if people just understand that vaccines are safe, cheap or free, and an effective way of preventing deadly disease, then they would be more likely to have their children vaccinated.

[00:18:41] But in developed countries the problem isn’t information, it’s trust. 

[00:18:47] In a world where people have been conditioned to not believe anything that an official institution tells them, no amount of the World Health Organisation telling you that vaccines are effective is going to work, because you simply don’t trust them. 

[00:19:04] Indeed, often this has the opposite effect. 

[00:19:09] If you believe that there is some global conspiracy forcing children to have vaccines, then adverts from government bodies telling you that vaccines are safe are probably going to reinforce your pre-existing beliefs.

[00:19:25] And of course, social media has made amplifying and spreading these kinds of theories easier than ever, and anti-vax has become an ideological war ground. 

[00:19:39] There was a report that found that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, a group that systematically uses social media to interfere in political opinions, this organisation had used Twitter bots to amplify prominent anti vax tweets. 

[00:19:59] And there are thousands of very active anti vax groups on Facebook, which help fan the flames of the anti vax movement.

[00:20:08] And this brings us on to the one elephant in the room, the one thing that we haven’t yet talked about. 

[00:20:16] A vaccine for COVID-19. 

[00:20:19] Now, this episode will be released in December 2020, so obviously this subject is very much ongoing

[00:20:28] Perhaps by the time you listen to it there will be a widely available vaccine, and this pandemic will be declared over. 

[00:20:36] For that to happen though, a large enough percentage of people need to take it, and recent surveys suggest that this might not be that simple.

[00:20:47] The number of Americans who say that they’ll be happy to take a vaccine for COVID-19 at the last count was 58%, and the numbers for most European countries are broadly similar. 

[00:21:02] Evidently, the more people are vaccinated the less opportunity there is for the virus to spread, so the next challenge will be to actually develop ways to encourage people to do this. 

[00:21:16] A challenge that is, perhaps, a lot harder than developing the vaccine itself.

[00:21:24] OK then, that is it for today's short history of vaccines.

[00:21:29] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:21:33] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:37] Did you know about how vaccines were first invented? 

[00:21:40] Have you had much experience with the anti-vax movement? 

[00:21:44] I know it’s a bit of a hot potato of a topic, but I would love to know what you think.

[00:21:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about vaccines. 

[00:00:28] You no doubt know what vaccines are, you have probably been vaccinated, and the word ‘vaccine’ has never been in the news more than it has been in the past few weeks.

[00:00:40] But you might not know the history of vaccines, where they come from, how they have developed, how cheap they actually are, and what has caused the rise of the anti-vax movement.

[00:00:53] We have a lot to cover in today’s episode, so let’s get cracking.

[00:00:59] Vaccines have completely changed the way we deal with disease

[00:01:04] It’s almost always easier and cheaper to prevent something from happening in the first place than to cure it when it does happen, and of course our health is no exception.

[00:01:18] In 2020, when there are vaccines for the majority of the diseases that used to cause most premature deaths, it’s easy to take this for granted.

[00:01:30] But stepping back one minute and thinking about the fact that we don’t have to worry about things like smallpox, mumps, polio and tetanus, diseases that used to kill millions of people every single year is a pretty amazing achievement.

[00:01:49] So, firstly, how do vaccines work? 

[00:01:53] The principle is pretty similar, whatever disease the vaccine is trying to prevent.

[00:01:59] A small amount of the germ, often in a killed or weakened state, is put into your body. 

[00:02:09] Most are injections, but occasionally there are some that you take orally, that you swallow.

[00:02:15] And then your body does the rest. 

[00:02:18] Your immune system recognises the germ, it recognises the virus or bacteria, and produces antibodies to fight it.

[00:02:28] It then remembers how to produce these antibodies so that if it encounters this germ in the future, it will be able to fight it naturally before it develops into a disease, and you don’t have to worry about getting that disease again because your body has developed immunity to it.

[00:02:48] As you will know, vaccines differ - some need to be done again after a certain number of years, while others are just done once and are good for life.

[00:02:58] So, this is the general principle - it’s relatively simple.

[00:03:03] But of course, behind everything that appears simple is a huge amount of work and experimentation, and vaccines are no exception.

[00:03:15] Indeed, the first vaccine, or attempted vaccine, is believed to have been developed around 500 years ago, a long time before ‘modern medicine’ was invented.

[00:03:29] Smallpox, otherwise known as variola, was a devastating disease that had existed since the Ancient Egyptians. 

[00:03:39] By the 15th century it had spread to large parts of the globe, and was killing 300,000 people a year in Europe alone.

[00:03:51] It was highly contagious

[00:03:52] You could catch it either by breathing the same air as someone who was infected, or from direct contact.

[00:04:02] You’ve probably seen pictures of what happens to someone when they get smallpox.

[00:04:07] They are normally covered in horrible scabs, and suffer from fever and vomiting.

[00:04:14] And if you got smallpox you had a 30% chance of dying.

[00:04:21] So, not good news at all.

[00:04:25] The first records of attempted vaccination, or technically it was called variolation, but they are very similar things - the first record comes from China, in the 15th century.

[00:04:40] It was discovered that by taking some of the dried scabs, the dried skin of someone who had smallpox and rubbing that on the skin of someone without smallpox, that person would normally develop only a mild infection, and they would recover after a few weeks. 

[00:05:02] If they had this small infection then they were unlikely to get a full blown, dangerous and deadly one.

[00:05:11] The process was still quite dangerous, and between 0.5% and and of people who had this primitive vaccine died from it, because they did develop the full, bad, deadly smallpox.

[00:05:27] But still, 2% is a lot better than 30%, and I certainly think I’d like those odds.

[00:05:35] Knowledge of this method of preventing smallpox spread, and it was popularised in Britain by an aristocratic lady named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 

[00:05:48] She had not only lost her brother to smallpox, but she had also got it, recovered, and was left with terrible scars on her face. She heard about this process of variolation, she had it done on her children, and started promoting it in Britain.

[00:06:09] Early experiments with this process proved encouraging, and the Royal Family was impressed, trusting it with their own children. 

[00:06:19] It hit a major roadblock though when a son of King George III, a boy called Prince Octavius, the eighth son, as you might be able to guess from the name, died after being given this treatment.

[00:06:35] Despite the loss of the prince, this primitive version of vaccination went from strength to strength

[00:06:43] It was quite easy to do, and doctors developed new and innovative ways of doing it. 

[00:06:51] The key thing they were trying to achieve was to reduce the strength of the smallpox virus that was given to the person, which they did through things like drying it and burying it in the ground before giving it to the patient. 

[00:07:08] By the 18th century, the practice was widespread throughout Europe, as well as the United States, although there was still a non-zero chance of you actually getting smallpox from it and dying. 

[00:07:23] So, it was better than nothing, but still imperfect.

[00:07:28] Towards the end of the 18th century British doctors had noticed something strange about dairy farmers, about cow farmers. They rarely got smallpox, but they did get something called cowpox, which was similar but significantly less lethal.

[00:07:50] A man named Edward Jenner hypothesised that if someone was given a small amount of the cowpox virus, instead of smallpox, this might have the effect of immunising them against smallpox.

[00:08:08] On 14 May 1796 he tried out this theory on an eight year old boy, the son of Jenner’s gardener. 

[00:08:18] The boy developed some very mild symptoms, but then recovered. And when they tried to infect him with smallpox a few weeks later, he didn’t get it. 

[00:08:31] He was immune.

[00:08:33] Jenner had done it, he had found a way to safely vaccinate against smallpox.

[00:08:40] Of course, more tests needed to be done, but this was the basis of vaccination. Indeed the term ‘vaccination’ comes from Jenner’s invention - vacca is cow in Latin.

[00:08:54] Jenner has been called the father of immunology, and this discovery is thought to have saved more lives than the work of any other human.

[00:09:05] By the year 1840 the previous process of immunisation, variolation, which used the real smallpox virus, was banned, and Jenner’s method was the approved one promoted by the British government.

[00:09:21] There were philanthropic missions that travelled throughout the Americas and East Asia giving people this vaccine, inoculating them and saving them from the disease

[00:09:34] And even Napoleon, in the middle of a war with Britain, gave every one of his soldiers Jenner’s smallpox vaccine and awarded Jenner a medal.

[00:09:46] By the start of the 20th century, smallpox had been virtually eradicated in the developed world, however it was spiralling out of control in the developing world.

[00:09:59] It’s estimated that it killed 300 million people in the 20th century. 

[00:10:06] There was a huge, global effort to eradicate the disease, using a vaccine that was based on the one Jenner had discovered 150 years earlier, and on May 8, 1980 it was declared to be eradicated by the World Health Assembly, the decision making body of the World Health Organisation.

[00:10:29] After Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, vaccines for other diseases continued to be discovered. 

[00:10:35] Louis Pasteur developed the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax, and we now have vaccines for dozens of diseases that used to kill millions of people every year.

[00:10:50] Vaccination is promoted by pretty much every government, and often subsidised to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

[00:10:59] It’s much cheaper to vaccinate someone than to care for them if they get sick, and so governments don’t just do it for moral reasons - there are some very good economic reasons for them to encourage it as well.

[00:11:16] But, for as long as vaccines have been around, there have been people who have been opposed to them, who do not want to take them for all sorts of reasons, from religious to moral to scientific to health to people just believing that they don’t work.

[00:11:33] And despite the billions of people around the world who have been vaccinated safely, and the hundreds of millions of deaths that have been prevented, as you'll no doubt know, the proportion of people who are sceptical about vaccinations has never been higher.

[00:11:52] Indeed, even in 2019, before COVID-19, vaccine scepticism, or anti vax, was listed as one of the top 10 global health threats by the WHO, by the World Health Organisation.

[00:12:10] The reason is that for a disease to be completely eradicated and for it to not have a chance to be transmitted again, as many people as possible need to be immune to it. 

[00:12:23] The more people who aren’t immune to a particular disease, the more bodies, the more homes, that disease has, and the greater the probability is that it can return.

[00:12:36] You’ve probably heard a lot about this in the past few months, and have heard the term ‘herd immunity’. 

[00:12:44] To recap, herd immunity is the idea that if enough people in the population are immune to a disease or virus this means it can’t spread as fast as it would if nobody was immune, and this protects the population.

[00:13:03] Modern anti vax ideas typically include anything from doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines through to a belief that they actively cause you harm, and other, more wild and dangerous conspiracy theories.

[00:13:19] We’re not going to give these the benefit of any real consideration here today, as they have all been debunked, proved wrong by pretty much every serious health professional, but there is one famous case that it is worth mentioning.

[00:13:36] And that is the belief that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, the Mumps, Measles and Rubella vaccine, and autism

[00:13:47] Now, this theory has been completely debunked, it has been proved to not be true. 

[00:13:54] The man who proposed it has been struck off the medical register, he is no longer allowed to practice medicine, and the journal in which the theory was originally published has removed it. 

[00:14:08] So there is absolutely no proof that it’s true, but it has remained the most famous and dangerous conspiracy theory about vaccines.

[00:14:18] In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, then a doctor and academic, published a paper in a reputable medical journal called The Lancet suggesting that there was a link between this vaccine and autism

[00:14:36] Evidently, that would be a terrible thing, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare that by trying to protect their child, they are actually harming them.

[00:14:47] The news of Wakefield’s discovery or proposal soon spread, he called a press conference and called for this vaccine to be stopped until more research was done. 

[00:15:01] But, it turned out that these claims were completely false. 

[00:15:07] The laboratory in which the tests had been conducted, had made several mistakes, and there was absolutely no evidence that this vaccine caused autism.

[00:15:19] Whatsmore, Wakefield hadn’t revealed that he had a financial interest in attacking this particular vaccine, as he was developing a different one.

[00:15:30] So the entire thing was a fraud, but the damage was done. 

[00:15:35] Just the mention of the possibility that this vaccine could cause autism was enough, even if it has proved to be a complete lie.

[00:15:46] Wakefield didn’t start the anti vax movement, but he was the highest profile person to be involved with it, and is now a frequent campaigner at antivax protests and is a sort of figurehead for the anti vax movement.

[00:16:06] And as you know, this movement is growing.

[00:16:09] There was a survey in 2019 that suggested that 40% of Americans doubt vaccine safety, and parents who have the means, who either live in countries where vaccines are free, or who have the financial ability to pay for them are increasingly refusing to vaccinate their children.

[00:16:33] The effect of this is, as expected, a return of some of the diseases that these vaccines were created to prevent. 

[00:16:43] In the year 2000 the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the main body for infectious diseases in the US declared that ‘measles’ had been eliminated throughout the United States. 

[00:16:57] Eliminated in this case means that there had been no transmission for 12 consequent months.

[00:17:05] But with the rise of the anti vax movement, and more and more parents refusing to give their children vaccinations, measles came back. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 there were 60 cases, then 220 the next year, and in 2019 there were 1282 cases. In 2020 the cases will drop dramatically, but that’s only due to COVID and people being inside - if there had been no COVID, no doubt it would have increased.

[00:17:42] And it’s not just in the US. 

[00:17:44] It’s growing the world over, as there is growing distrust in government institutions and information, or rather misinformation, spreads more easily and faster than ever, thanks to the internet, social networks and messaging apps.

[00:18:01] This has got governments scratching their heads, with no country really sure what to do about it. 

[00:18:10] In some countries, especially less developed countries, it’s thought to be a question of education and providing the right information about the effectiveness of vaccines. 

[00:18:24] The theory goes that if people just understand that vaccines are safe, cheap or free, and an effective way of preventing deadly disease, then they would be more likely to have their children vaccinated.

[00:18:41] But in developed countries the problem isn’t information, it’s trust. 

[00:18:47] In a world where people have been conditioned to not believe anything that an official institution tells them, no amount of the World Health Organisation telling you that vaccines are effective is going to work, because you simply don’t trust them. 

[00:19:04] Indeed, often this has the opposite effect. 

[00:19:09] If you believe that there is some global conspiracy forcing children to have vaccines, then adverts from government bodies telling you that vaccines are safe are probably going to reinforce your pre-existing beliefs.

[00:19:25] And of course, social media has made amplifying and spreading these kinds of theories easier than ever, and anti-vax has become an ideological war ground. 

[00:19:39] There was a report that found that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, a group that systematically uses social media to interfere in political opinions, this organisation had used Twitter bots to amplify prominent anti vax tweets. 

[00:19:59] And there are thousands of very active anti vax groups on Facebook, which help fan the flames of the anti vax movement.

[00:20:08] And this brings us on to the one elephant in the room, the one thing that we haven’t yet talked about. 

[00:20:16] A vaccine for COVID-19. 

[00:20:19] Now, this episode will be released in December 2020, so obviously this subject is very much ongoing

[00:20:28] Perhaps by the time you listen to it there will be a widely available vaccine, and this pandemic will be declared over. 

[00:20:36] For that to happen though, a large enough percentage of people need to take it, and recent surveys suggest that this might not be that simple.

[00:20:47] The number of Americans who say that they’ll be happy to take a vaccine for COVID-19 at the last count was 58%, and the numbers for most European countries are broadly similar. 

[00:21:02] Evidently, the more people are vaccinated the less opportunity there is for the virus to spread, so the next challenge will be to actually develop ways to encourage people to do this. 

[00:21:16] A challenge that is, perhaps, a lot harder than developing the vaccine itself.

[00:21:24] OK then, that is it for today's short history of vaccines.

[00:21:29] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:21:33] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:37] Did you know about how vaccines were first invented? 

[00:21:40] Have you had much experience with the anti-vax movement? 

[00:21:44] I know it’s a bit of a hot potato of a topic, but I would love to know what you think.

[00:21:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about vaccines. 

[00:00:28] You no doubt know what vaccines are, you have probably been vaccinated, and the word ‘vaccine’ has never been in the news more than it has been in the past few weeks.

[00:00:40] But you might not know the history of vaccines, where they come from, how they have developed, how cheap they actually are, and what has caused the rise of the anti-vax movement.

[00:00:53] We have a lot to cover in today’s episode, so let’s get cracking.

[00:00:59] Vaccines have completely changed the way we deal with disease

[00:01:04] It’s almost always easier and cheaper to prevent something from happening in the first place than to cure it when it does happen, and of course our health is no exception.

[00:01:18] In 2020, when there are vaccines for the majority of the diseases that used to cause most premature deaths, it’s easy to take this for granted.

[00:01:30] But stepping back one minute and thinking about the fact that we don’t have to worry about things like smallpox, mumps, polio and tetanus, diseases that used to kill millions of people every single year is a pretty amazing achievement.

[00:01:49] So, firstly, how do vaccines work? 

[00:01:53] The principle is pretty similar, whatever disease the vaccine is trying to prevent.

[00:01:59] A small amount of the germ, often in a killed or weakened state, is put into your body. 

[00:02:09] Most are injections, but occasionally there are some that you take orally, that you swallow.

[00:02:15] And then your body does the rest. 

[00:02:18] Your immune system recognises the germ, it recognises the virus or bacteria, and produces antibodies to fight it.

[00:02:28] It then remembers how to produce these antibodies so that if it encounters this germ in the future, it will be able to fight it naturally before it develops into a disease, and you don’t have to worry about getting that disease again because your body has developed immunity to it.

[00:02:48] As you will know, vaccines differ - some need to be done again after a certain number of years, while others are just done once and are good for life.

[00:02:58] So, this is the general principle - it’s relatively simple.

[00:03:03] But of course, behind everything that appears simple is a huge amount of work and experimentation, and vaccines are no exception.

[00:03:15] Indeed, the first vaccine, or attempted vaccine, is believed to have been developed around 500 years ago, a long time before ‘modern medicine’ was invented.

[00:03:29] Smallpox, otherwise known as variola, was a devastating disease that had existed since the Ancient Egyptians. 

[00:03:39] By the 15th century it had spread to large parts of the globe, and was killing 300,000 people a year in Europe alone.

[00:03:51] It was highly contagious

[00:03:52] You could catch it either by breathing the same air as someone who was infected, or from direct contact.

[00:04:02] You’ve probably seen pictures of what happens to someone when they get smallpox.

[00:04:07] They are normally covered in horrible scabs, and suffer from fever and vomiting.

[00:04:14] And if you got smallpox you had a 30% chance of dying.

[00:04:21] So, not good news at all.

[00:04:25] The first records of attempted vaccination, or technically it was called variolation, but they are very similar things - the first record comes from China, in the 15th century.

[00:04:40] It was discovered that by taking some of the dried scabs, the dried skin of someone who had smallpox and rubbing that on the skin of someone without smallpox, that person would normally develop only a mild infection, and they would recover after a few weeks. 

[00:05:02] If they had this small infection then they were unlikely to get a full blown, dangerous and deadly one.

[00:05:11] The process was still quite dangerous, and between 0.5% and and of people who had this primitive vaccine died from it, because they did develop the full, bad, deadly smallpox.

[00:05:27] But still, 2% is a lot better than 30%, and I certainly think I’d like those odds.

[00:05:35] Knowledge of this method of preventing smallpox spread, and it was popularised in Britain by an aristocratic lady named Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 

[00:05:48] She had not only lost her brother to smallpox, but she had also got it, recovered, and was left with terrible scars on her face. She heard about this process of variolation, she had it done on her children, and started promoting it in Britain.

[00:06:09] Early experiments with this process proved encouraging, and the Royal Family was impressed, trusting it with their own children. 

[00:06:19] It hit a major roadblock though when a son of King George III, a boy called Prince Octavius, the eighth son, as you might be able to guess from the name, died after being given this treatment.

[00:06:35] Despite the loss of the prince, this primitive version of vaccination went from strength to strength

[00:06:43] It was quite easy to do, and doctors developed new and innovative ways of doing it. 

[00:06:51] The key thing they were trying to achieve was to reduce the strength of the smallpox virus that was given to the person, which they did through things like drying it and burying it in the ground before giving it to the patient. 

[00:07:08] By the 18th century, the practice was widespread throughout Europe, as well as the United States, although there was still a non-zero chance of you actually getting smallpox from it and dying. 

[00:07:23] So, it was better than nothing, but still imperfect.

[00:07:28] Towards the end of the 18th century British doctors had noticed something strange about dairy farmers, about cow farmers. They rarely got smallpox, but they did get something called cowpox, which was similar but significantly less lethal.

[00:07:50] A man named Edward Jenner hypothesised that if someone was given a small amount of the cowpox virus, instead of smallpox, this might have the effect of immunising them against smallpox.

[00:08:08] On 14 May 1796 he tried out this theory on an eight year old boy, the son of Jenner’s gardener. 

[00:08:18] The boy developed some very mild symptoms, but then recovered. And when they tried to infect him with smallpox a few weeks later, he didn’t get it. 

[00:08:31] He was immune.

[00:08:33] Jenner had done it, he had found a way to safely vaccinate against smallpox.

[00:08:40] Of course, more tests needed to be done, but this was the basis of vaccination. Indeed the term ‘vaccination’ comes from Jenner’s invention - vacca is cow in Latin.

[00:08:54] Jenner has been called the father of immunology, and this discovery is thought to have saved more lives than the work of any other human.

[00:09:05] By the year 1840 the previous process of immunisation, variolation, which used the real smallpox virus, was banned, and Jenner’s method was the approved one promoted by the British government.

[00:09:21] There were philanthropic missions that travelled throughout the Americas and East Asia giving people this vaccine, inoculating them and saving them from the disease

[00:09:34] And even Napoleon, in the middle of a war with Britain, gave every one of his soldiers Jenner’s smallpox vaccine and awarded Jenner a medal.

[00:09:46] By the start of the 20th century, smallpox had been virtually eradicated in the developed world, however it was spiralling out of control in the developing world.

[00:09:59] It’s estimated that it killed 300 million people in the 20th century. 

[00:10:06] There was a huge, global effort to eradicate the disease, using a vaccine that was based on the one Jenner had discovered 150 years earlier, and on May 8, 1980 it was declared to be eradicated by the World Health Assembly, the decision making body of the World Health Organisation.

[00:10:29] After Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, vaccines for other diseases continued to be discovered. 

[00:10:35] Louis Pasteur developed the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax, and we now have vaccines for dozens of diseases that used to kill millions of people every year.

[00:10:50] Vaccination is promoted by pretty much every government, and often subsidised to encourage people to get vaccinated. 

[00:10:59] It’s much cheaper to vaccinate someone than to care for them if they get sick, and so governments don’t just do it for moral reasons - there are some very good economic reasons for them to encourage it as well.

[00:11:16] But, for as long as vaccines have been around, there have been people who have been opposed to them, who do not want to take them for all sorts of reasons, from religious to moral to scientific to health to people just believing that they don’t work.

[00:11:33] And despite the billions of people around the world who have been vaccinated safely, and the hundreds of millions of deaths that have been prevented, as you'll no doubt know, the proportion of people who are sceptical about vaccinations has never been higher.

[00:11:52] Indeed, even in 2019, before COVID-19, vaccine scepticism, or anti vax, was listed as one of the top 10 global health threats by the WHO, by the World Health Organisation.

[00:12:10] The reason is that for a disease to be completely eradicated and for it to not have a chance to be transmitted again, as many people as possible need to be immune to it. 

[00:12:23] The more people who aren’t immune to a particular disease, the more bodies, the more homes, that disease has, and the greater the probability is that it can return.

[00:12:36] You’ve probably heard a lot about this in the past few months, and have heard the term ‘herd immunity’. 

[00:12:44] To recap, herd immunity is the idea that if enough people in the population are immune to a disease or virus this means it can’t spread as fast as it would if nobody was immune, and this protects the population.

[00:13:03] Modern anti vax ideas typically include anything from doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines through to a belief that they actively cause you harm, and other, more wild and dangerous conspiracy theories.

[00:13:19] We’re not going to give these the benefit of any real consideration here today, as they have all been debunked, proved wrong by pretty much every serious health professional, but there is one famous case that it is worth mentioning.

[00:13:36] And that is the belief that there is a link between the MMR vaccine, the Mumps, Measles and Rubella vaccine, and autism

[00:13:47] Now, this theory has been completely debunked, it has been proved to not be true. 

[00:13:54] The man who proposed it has been struck off the medical register, he is no longer allowed to practice medicine, and the journal in which the theory was originally published has removed it. 

[00:14:08] So there is absolutely no proof that it’s true, but it has remained the most famous and dangerous conspiracy theory about vaccines.

[00:14:18] In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, then a doctor and academic, published a paper in a reputable medical journal called The Lancet suggesting that there was a link between this vaccine and autism

[00:14:36] Evidently, that would be a terrible thing, and it’s every parent’s worst nightmare that by trying to protect their child, they are actually harming them.

[00:14:47] The news of Wakefield’s discovery or proposal soon spread, he called a press conference and called for this vaccine to be stopped until more research was done. 

[00:15:01] But, it turned out that these claims were completely false. 

[00:15:07] The laboratory in which the tests had been conducted, had made several mistakes, and there was absolutely no evidence that this vaccine caused autism.

[00:15:19] Whatsmore, Wakefield hadn’t revealed that he had a financial interest in attacking this particular vaccine, as he was developing a different one.

[00:15:30] So the entire thing was a fraud, but the damage was done. 

[00:15:35] Just the mention of the possibility that this vaccine could cause autism was enough, even if it has proved to be a complete lie.

[00:15:46] Wakefield didn’t start the anti vax movement, but he was the highest profile person to be involved with it, and is now a frequent campaigner at antivax protests and is a sort of figurehead for the anti vax movement.

[00:16:06] And as you know, this movement is growing.

[00:16:09] There was a survey in 2019 that suggested that 40% of Americans doubt vaccine safety, and parents who have the means, who either live in countries where vaccines are free, or who have the financial ability to pay for them are increasingly refusing to vaccinate their children.

[00:16:33] The effect of this is, as expected, a return of some of the diseases that these vaccines were created to prevent. 

[00:16:43] In the year 2000 the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the main body for infectious diseases in the US declared that ‘measles’ had been eliminated throughout the United States. 

[00:16:57] Eliminated in this case means that there had been no transmission for 12 consequent months.

[00:17:05] But with the rise of the anti vax movement, and more and more parents refusing to give their children vaccinations, measles came back. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 there were 60 cases, then 220 the next year, and in 2019 there were 1282 cases. In 2020 the cases will drop dramatically, but that’s only due to COVID and people being inside - if there had been no COVID, no doubt it would have increased.

[00:17:42] And it’s not just in the US. 

[00:17:44] It’s growing the world over, as there is growing distrust in government institutions and information, or rather misinformation, spreads more easily and faster than ever, thanks to the internet, social networks and messaging apps.

[00:18:01] This has got governments scratching their heads, with no country really sure what to do about it. 

[00:18:10] In some countries, especially less developed countries, it’s thought to be a question of education and providing the right information about the effectiveness of vaccines. 

[00:18:24] The theory goes that if people just understand that vaccines are safe, cheap or free, and an effective way of preventing deadly disease, then they would be more likely to have their children vaccinated.

[00:18:41] But in developed countries the problem isn’t information, it’s trust. 

[00:18:47] In a world where people have been conditioned to not believe anything that an official institution tells them, no amount of the World Health Organisation telling you that vaccines are effective is going to work, because you simply don’t trust them. 

[00:19:04] Indeed, often this has the opposite effect. 

[00:19:09] If you believe that there is some global conspiracy forcing children to have vaccines, then adverts from government bodies telling you that vaccines are safe are probably going to reinforce your pre-existing beliefs.

[00:19:25] And of course, social media has made amplifying and spreading these kinds of theories easier than ever, and anti-vax has become an ideological war ground. 

[00:19:39] There was a report that found that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm, a group that systematically uses social media to interfere in political opinions, this organisation had used Twitter bots to amplify prominent anti vax tweets. 

[00:19:59] And there are thousands of very active anti vax groups on Facebook, which help fan the flames of the anti vax movement.

[00:20:08] And this brings us on to the one elephant in the room, the one thing that we haven’t yet talked about. 

[00:20:16] A vaccine for COVID-19. 

[00:20:19] Now, this episode will be released in December 2020, so obviously this subject is very much ongoing

[00:20:28] Perhaps by the time you listen to it there will be a widely available vaccine, and this pandemic will be declared over. 

[00:20:36] For that to happen though, a large enough percentage of people need to take it, and recent surveys suggest that this might not be that simple.

[00:20:47] The number of Americans who say that they’ll be happy to take a vaccine for COVID-19 at the last count was 58%, and the numbers for most European countries are broadly similar. 

[00:21:02] Evidently, the more people are vaccinated the less opportunity there is for the virus to spread, so the next challenge will be to actually develop ways to encourage people to do this. 

[00:21:16] A challenge that is, perhaps, a lot harder than developing the vaccine itself.

[00:21:24] OK then, that is it for today's short history of vaccines.

[00:21:29] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new.

[00:21:33] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:21:37] Did you know about how vaccines were first invented? 

[00:21:40] Have you had much experience with the anti-vax movement? 

[00:21:44] I know it’s a bit of a hot potato of a topic, but I would love to know what you think.

[00:21:49] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:59] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English

[00:22:04] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]