What Vaccines Became Available in the Early Twentieth Century?

Several vaccines were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Waldemar Haffkine, a Russian microbiologist who spent much of his time in India, developed a vaccine for cholera in 1892 and a vaccine for bubonic plague in 1897.

Given the millions of people who have died over the centuries from these diseases, these two achievements should have made him as famous as Edward Jenner, but he is relatively unknown outside the field of immunology. The cholera vaccine was recently updated into an oral vaccine, but it is not recommended by the CDC and is not available in the United States. The plague vaccine is no longer commercially available in the United States.

An early version of the typhoid vaccine was developed around the turn of the century by Almorth Wright, a British bacteriologist. His work was taken up in the United States by Frederick Russell, an officer in the U.S. Arour. In 1911, the typhoid vaccine became mandatory in the arour, and illness and death rates dropped dramatically in just two years.

Diphtheria was a major killer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Interestingly, the first step toward a cure for diphtheria was not a vaccine but rather the development of a diphtheria antitoxin. This antitoxin, when given after someone became sick with diphtheria, was able to halt or reverse the effects of the toxin released by the diphtheria bacteria and saved thousands of lives.

In fact, the Iditarod, the famous annual dogsled race in Alaska, commemorates an over six-hundred-mile dogsled run to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska, which prevented a diphtheria epidemic.

Emil von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research into diphtheria antitoxin. A diphtheria vaccine became available in the 1920s and slowly spread around the world. The death rate in the United States dropped from thousands of deaths per year in the 1920s to virtually zero by the 1950s.

The first whole-cell pertussis vaccine was developed in the 1930s. It was combined with the diphtheria vaccine and the tetanus vaccine (developed in the 1920s) to create the DTP vaccine. This vaccine stayed in use for almost fifty years. Other vaccines that were developed in the first half of the twentieth century include the bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine against tuberculosis and the yellow fever vaccine, both of which are still in use today.