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History of vaccine introduction

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Long before the causes of disease were discovered, the process of immunisation was being studied and used. It was observed that once a person had been infected with a disease, survivors did not catch the disease again. The Chinese were the first to experiment with vaccination through the process of "variolation". They used matter from the lesions of smallpox sufferers and transferred it to healthy individuals, either by inserting it under their skin or by the uninfected person inhaling the powder. The process of variolation soon spread to other countries around the world, and although it sometimes caused death, it was noted that mortality and morbidity rates due to smallpox were lower in populations where variolation was used.
Smallpox on a childs arm (top image) and legs (bottom image) Picture: Smallpox lesions on the hands and feet of a small child - World Health Organisation
Edward Jenner, relaxing beside the trunk of a tree with his hat in his right hand.
Picture: Edward Jenner
In the late 1700's Edward Jenner, a country doctor in England, began to notice a similarity between smallpox and cowpox. He was particularly intrigued when a milkmaid told him she would not catch the disease because she had had cowpox. In 1796 Jenner deliberately infected a small boy with cowpox, in an effort to determine if he was consequently immune from catching smallpox. He first allowed the boy to recover before injecting him with the smallpox virus. As Jenner had predicted, the boy did not suffer from smallpox. This process of deliberately infecting oneself with cowpox to avoid the more severe form of the disease became popular around the world and was known as 'vaccination'.

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In 1853 the English Government passed an act making vaccination compulsory across the United Kingdom, however, not everyone liked the idea of exposing oneself to 'such filth'. In 1898 another act was produced which recognised the right of the 'conscientious objector', meaning vaccination was encouraged but not compulsory.
Since the first discovery of the smallpox vaccine by Jenner many vaccines have been produced. In the late 1800's Louis Pasture established the germ theory and developed the vaccine against rabies, whilst Emil von Behring and Shibasaburo Kitasato discovered the antitoxins of diphtheria and tetanus leading to the production of vaccines for both diseases. By the end of the 1920s, vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and tuberculosis (BCG) were all available.

Most of the major vaccines used today resulted from the explosive growth of biomedical research after WWII. Enormous advances were made both in biological knowledge, and in the capabilities of research tools including computers and microscopes. For example, in the early 1900s, diphtheria caused more deaths in Australia than any other infectious disease. But, with the introduction of the diphtheria vaccine after World War II, diphtheria has virtually disappeared, the last case being reported in 1993.

The development of efficient vaccines has resulted in a marked decrease in morbidity and mortality from vaccine preventable diseases in Australia and around the world. Most notably, in 1980, smallpox was declared by the world health organisation to have been eradicated. It is hoped that in the future other diseases such as polio and measles will also be eliminated. Today the fight against vaccine preventable diseases continues with huge mass immunisation programs. Australia currently runs a national immunisation program in order to protect our population from these nasty diseases.

Source websites

NHS immunisation information

Access Excellence @ the national health museum - Vaccines, How and why?


A timeline detailing the introduction of various vaccines in Australia.

Year (Month) Vaccine details
1804 Small Pox from England
1917 Small Pox produced in Australia
1917 Tetanus antitoxin for Armed Forces
1924 Diphtheria toxin - antitoxin Melbourne City Council
1925 Tetanus toxoid
1925 Pertussis toxoid used in case contacts and epidemics
1927 Diphtheria toxoid
1932 Community immunisation for the public
1945 June Tetanus toxoid available for civilians after World War 2
1953 Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis
1956 May SALK (polio)
1966 September Polio Sabin (OPV)
1969 Measles
1971 February Rubella
1980 Small Pox Vaccination ceased
1981 July Mumps
1982 Pneumovax 14 commenced
1983 February Measles/Mumps
1983 March Hepatitis B Vax (Plasma)
1984/85 End of BCG School Program
1986 CDT-DTP 4th Dose (1st Pertussis booster)
1987 Infants 'at risk' commenced birth dose hepatitis B
1987 Pneumovax 23 commenced
1987 November Hepatitis B Vax ll (Recombinant)
1989 June Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
1992 May Haemophilus Influenzae (Hib) (18/12 - 5)
1993 July Hib (2/12 - 18/12)
1993 July Hepatitis A (Havrix)
1994 MMR males/females Grade 6
1995 CDT-DTP 5th Dose (2nd Pertussis booster)
1997 Influenza program for over 65's
1997 October Infanrix replaces 4th and 5th dose Triple Antigen

HibTITER Multidose expired (contained thiomersal)
1998 Pneumococcal Pneumonia (over 65's)
1998 MMR Primary School Program
1998 4 year old booster DTP, MMR,OPV program prior to school
1998 Hepatitis B Paediatric (3 doses)school program
1999 MMR 18 to 30 year old campaign
1999 Infanrix - 2/12 to 4 years of age inclusive
2000 May Hepatitis B Birth dose
2000 Comvax (hib-hepatitis B)
2000 Hepatitis B Adult Year 7 school program (2 doses)
2000 OPV ceased in Year 9/10 school Program
2000 Hepatitis B boosters ceased
2000 ADT boosters 10 yearly ceased
2001 Hepatitis B vaccine for injecting drug users
2001 Varicella (Chickenpox) (unfunded)
2001 Childhood Pneumococcal Pneumonia - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children only
2001 December Meningitec - Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine (unfunded)
2001 Hib TITER vaccine ceased (only Pedvax available)
2002 August NeisVac C - Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine (unfunded)
2002 October Menjugate - Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine (unfunded)
2003 January Meningococcal C conjugate vaccine at 12 months of age
2003 January 1-19 yrs Meningococcal C conjugate vaccination program (till 2006)
2003 September 18th month dose DTPa ceased
Expanded medical risk group for childhood pneumococcal under 5 years of age
2004 January dTpa (Boostrix) for 15-17 years (Year 10 school program) in place of ADT
2004 September 4, 5 and 6 antigen combination vaccines
2005 January Pneumococcal vaccine - Prevenar scheduled at 2, 4 and 6 months of age - catch up in 2005 for children born between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2004.
2005 January Pneumococcal vaccine - Pneumovax 23 now funded by Federal Government for adults over 65 years of age
2005 November Inactivated Polio Vaccine in combination with diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis scheduled at 2, 4 and 6 months and 4 years of age.
2005 November Oral Polio (Sabin) ceased at 2, 4 and 6 months and 4 years of age.
2005 November Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine scheduled at 18 months of age and for children in Year 7 of secondary school who have not had chickenpox vaccine or the disease.
2007 Hepatitis B vaccine for household contacts of a person living with hepatitis B
2007 Hepatitis B vaccine for prisoners
2007 April Human papillomavirus vaccine for girls aged between 12 and 13 in Year 7 of secondary school. A 2 year catch-up period to the end of June 2009 for girls aged 14 to 18.
2007 July Human papillomavirus vaccine for young women aged between 18 and 26 for a 2 year period to the end of June 2009.
2007 July Rotavirus (RotaTeq) vaccine scheduled at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
2008 March Diphtheria,tetanus, acellular pertussis, hepatitis B, poliomyelitis and haemophilus influenzae type b (Infanrix hexa) combination vaccine for babies at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
2008 September Hiberix vaccine (haemophilus influenzae type b) given at 12 months of age for an infant who has at minimum received Infanrix hexa vaccine at six months of age and is up to date with all vaccines.
2008 September Pedvax HIB ceased
2009 June Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (Boostrix®) Free vaccine for parents with an infant born from 15 June 2009. Program ends 30 June 2012.
2009 September Pandemic influenza Panvax® H1N1 vaccine for people aged 10 years and over.
2009 December Panvax® H1N1 approved for children aged 6 months to under 10 years of age.
2009 December Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil®) catch up program for females between 13 and 26 years of age ends 31 December 2009.
2010 Hepatitis B vaccine for HIV positive persons
2010 January Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil®) Year 7 secondary school girl program or age equivalent.
2010 January Influenza. Expanded eligibility for free seasonal influenza vaccine to include - pregnant women, Indigenous people from 15 years of age and over, residents of nursing homes and other long term care facilities, all people from six months of age and over with conditions predisposing to severe influenza.
2010 December Panvax® H1N1 vaccine program ends on 31 December 2010
2011 July Prevenar® vaccine ceased for use at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
2011 July Prevenar 13® introduced for the primary schedule at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
2011 October A supplementary catch-up dose of Prevenar 13® for all children aged 12 months to 35 months. Program ends 30 September 2012