A Short Story Of Vaccination

From smallpox to Covid-19: How immunization has been used to fight germ attacks for centuries.

Edward Jenner by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

The English country doctor Edward Jenner (1749-1823) developed the modern vaccination against smallpox.

Royal Bavarian Government Gazette (1807) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

The Kingdom of Bavaria was one of the first countries to introduce compulsory vaccination (according to Jenner's method): On August 26, 1807, the Royal Bavarian Government Gazette published "by royal supreme order" a decree "concerning smallpox vaccination to be introduced by law in all provinces."

In order to extend the protection achieved and to contain the spread of smallpox in the still young Kingdom of Bavaria in the long term, King Max I Joseph ordered that all persons over the age of three who had never had smallpox had to be vaccinated by July 1, 1808. As proof, vaccination certificates were issued attesting to successful vaccination with smallpox.

"We Maximillian Joseph, by the Grace of God King of Bavaria. We have so far noticed with particular pleasure the excellent progress of smallpox vaccination in Our States, as well as the praiseworthy willingness of a large part of Our subjects to accept this protective remedy against the ravages of smallpox, which has been proven infallible by the experience of physicians. 

However, the reports submitted from the various provinces of Our Empire have also informed Us of how many people still forego this great benefit out of prejudice or indolence, thereby endangering themselves as well as others."

Smallpox vaccination certificate (1855) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

The successful vaccination with the "smallpox" was documented by the doctors with so-called vaccination certificates. These were usually simple slips of paper, with the exception of this certificate issued in Graz, Styria, in 1855.

It shows doctor Edward Jenner with cow inoculating a boy with cowpox on his upper arm, mothers holding out their child to the patron goddess Hygeia, and the saying "Figure, health and protected life."

Vaccination kit by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

The vaccination set for smallpox vaccination was made by the Aktiengesellschaft für Feinmechanik, Tuttlingen, and was manufactured between 1920 and 1930.

Vaccination kit by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

The smallpox vaccination was quickly done by a skilled doctor. The freshly sterilized knife was briefly dipped into the vaccine, and then the smallpox vaccine was introduced into the upper arm with two small cuts.

Smallpox vaccination scar by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

After a few days, a small pustule formed on the upper arm, which scarred characteristically - the vaccination was successful, and the vaccinated person was now protected from the dangerous smallpox. After a worldwide vaccination program, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. Smallpox has not been vaccinated in Germany since 1975.

Imvanex by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Imvanex is a vaccine currently approved for vaccination against smallpox, developed by Bavarian Nordic based on the Modified Vaccinia Ankara virus strain. It is non-replicable in humans and can therefore be injected subcutaneously and is also approved for vaccination of people with immune deficiencies. Although smallpox is considered eradicated, samples of smallpox virus are still stored in research laboratories in the USA and Russia.

Spotted fever vaccine (1943) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Spotted fever vaccine according to Weigl, two ampoules in original packaging from the Institute for Spotted Fever Research (Army High Command) in Krakow from 1943.

Typhus is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia prowazeckii.

Clothes lice are responsible for transmission, but the infection does not occur when the louse bites. The bacteria are found in the lice feces, which usually get into the open bite wound and thus into the body when scratched.

Spotted fever vaccine (1943) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

As a professor at Lviv University, the Polish biologist Rudolf Weigl (1883-1957) developed a spotted fever vaccine that protected against severe courses of the disease for at least one year. Unlike other research groups, Weigl obtained his vaccine from infected lice intestines.

After the invasion of the Wehrmacht, Weigl's laboratory became a branch of the Institute for Spotted Fever and Virus Research of the Army High Command in Krakow, and production of the coveted spotted fever vaccine was expanded. Rudolf Weigl managed to save the lives of many thousands of people (including Polish university professors and Jewish fellow citizens) by classifying their dangerous work as "lice feeders" as "important to the war effort."

Typhoral by Deutsches Museum/A. KaufmannDeutsches Museum

Typhoral (this packet dates from the years between 1945 and 1948) was a solid vaccine for oral inoculation against typhoid fever, which provided protection for about six to twelve months. It contained killed typhoid and paratyphoid bacteria to stimulate the immune system to produce protective antibodies. Nowadays, a live vaccine containing non-disease-causing Salmonella typhi bacteria is used for oral typhoid vaccination.

Virelon vaccine against polio (1957) by Behringwerke, MarburgDeutsches Museum

In 1956, polio was vaccinated for the first time in West Germany.
A vaccine developed by the U.S. physician and immunologist Jonas Salk (1914-95) was used, which contained killed polio viruses and was injected: Virelon (this vial dates from 1959). Only a few people had themselves vaccinated with it. With the oral vaccination according to Albert Sabin, introduced in 1962, the live vaccine was conveniently available on sugar cubes, according to the motto: "oral vaccination is sweet"! Today, the vaccine according to Salk is used again, mostly as part of a combination vaccine.

Bavarian vaccination thaler by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

vaccinated - protected

Bavarian vaccination thaler by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

At the suggestion of Prof. Helmut Stickl, then head of the Bavarian State Vaccination Institute, so-called "vaccination tokens" were introduced in Bavaria in 1973, which were handed out to children during voluntary oral polio vaccinations. The "Impftaler" was minted on behalf of the Bavarian State Ministry of the Interior.

Tetanol (1959) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Tetanol vaccine against tetanus:
Tetanus is usually fatal. The bacterium Clostridium tetani, which lives in the soil, can enter the body even through small wounds. When infected, it forms a powerful toxin: tetanus toxin. The pure toxin can be converted into a non-toxic form called toxoid by treatment with formaldehyde. Adsorbed to a mineral carrier such as aluminum hydroxide, the toxoid serves as a vaccine. The vaccination should be refreshed every ten years.

Influsplit Tetra by Deutsches Museum/A. GöttertDeutsches Museum

The same procedure every year ...
For each winter season, the WHO (World Health Organization) selects different virus strains for the northern (but also for the southern) hemisphere that are likely to be responsible for influenza illnesses in the respective flu season.

Influsplit Tetra by Deutsches Museum/A. GöttertDeutsches Museum

The Influsplit Tetra vaccine is produced in Dresden and contains split antigens for four different virus strains. The influenza vaccine is a seasonal product.

Priorix by Deutsches Museum/A. GöttertDeutsches Museum

Combination vaccines - one prick, triple protection:
Just one painful prick - and you're protected against mumps, measles and rubella. Combination vaccines (here the MMR vaccine "Priorix"), which were first used in the 1970s, make this possible! The protective effect is not compromised and fewer additives usually make them better tolerated. Another advantage is that only one appointment with the doctor is necessary. Other combinations include tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio (polio), or hepatitis A and B.

Gardasil-9 by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Vaccination protects against cancer!
The German Nobel Prize winner Harald zur Hausen was able to prove that infection with HPV (wart viruses) plays a decisive role in the development of cervical cancer (cervical carcinoma). The discovery of the trigger of the third most common cancer in women opened up completely new perspectives for prevention and treatment and ultimately led to the development of HPV vaccines, which have been available since 2006. HPV vaccines specifically protect against certain sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses (HPV). This is a new nine-drug vaccine that protects against HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. This vaccine is produced by genetic engineering and contains only non-infectious viral envelopes.

Ervebo (2020) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Ervebo is the name of hope in the fight against Ebola, one of the world's deadliest viruses. For around two-thirds of Ebola patients, the disease is fatal. 

In Ervebo, the genetic material for a vaccine antigen is inserted into a carrier virus, which is then injected as a vaccine. The protein of this genetic material is incorporated into the surface of the vector and thus introduced into the body. There, these proteins then trigger the production of antibodies in the vaccinated person. This is the first approved vaccine based on the new vector technology.

Comirnaty (2021) by Deutsches Museum/A. KaufmannDeutsches Museum

This is an mRNA-based SARS-CoV-2 vaccine developed in 2020 by the German pharmaceutical company Biontech in cooperation with the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer against the pandemic viral disease SARS-CoV-2 ("Corona").

Naked mRNA is physically and thermally unstable. In order to reach the site of action without prior degradation and to be able to exert its effect, the mRNA is embedded ("packaged") in lipid nanoparticles ("lipid beads"). After injection, this is taken up by body cells, which then produce the S protein (spike protein) according to the blueprint of the mRNA. This is recognized by the immune system as foreign, which stimulates the production of protective antibodies.

On December 21, 2020, the vaccine was conditionally licensed in the European Union for persons over 16 years of age (now for persons 12 years of age and older), and the two ampoules were vaccinated in Germany.

Bioreactor (2020) by Deutsches MuseumDeutsches Museum

Dieser Bioreaktor war bei der Produktion der ersten Impfstoff-Charge von BioNTech im Einsatz.

BioNTech und die mRNA-Revolution

Panel-Diskussion mit den BioNTech-Experten Özlem Türeci, Ugur Sahin und Katalin Karikó.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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