Scientists are racing to find a vaccine to help provide protection against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

A vaccine utilises weakened, inactive or dead microorganisms to help speed up and strengthen an immune response against a pathogen and protect from the disease it causes. 

Forms of immunisation have been around for hundreds of years,

With roots leading back to China and India in the 11th century.

In 1022, a Buddhist nun living in Sichuan inoculated people after noticing those who had suffered from smallpox did not get it again.

In this case, she ground up a powder made from smallpox scabs and blew it up people’s noses but inoculation was also achieved by scratching smallpox into the skin.

In the 17th century,

Emperor K’ang Hsi, inoculated his children having survived a case of smallpox and the practice was also established in parts of Africa and Europe.

In 1706, a Boston minister noticed a scar from variolation on the arm of his Libyan-born slave,

Onesimus, and upon inquiring amongst other slaves, found many of them had been variolated in Africa.

Variolation is derived from the Latin word variola – literally meaning “pustule” or “pox”

But referring to smallpox – and is the process of smallpox inoculation.

Furthermore, in 1717,

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu described how the process was carried out in Turkey in a letter to her friend saying,

“…The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us,

Is here entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting, which is the term they give it.

There is a set of old women who make it their business to perform the operation every autumn….

The old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of smallpox, and asks what veins you please to have opened….

She immediately rips open that you offer her with a large needle … and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of her needle…. Every year thousands undergo this operation….”

She later became the first person to bring the practice to England where she had her 2- year-old daughter variolated.

This, however,

was an inexact science as some variolated individuals still passed the virus on to others and up to 3% of them still died.

Understanding the mechanism of disease was vital to finding effective treatments – in 1757 a Scottish physician named.

Francis Home took the blood of an infected patient with measles and transmitted it through the skin of healthy patients.

He transferred measles to ten of his twelve patients demonstrating the disease was caused by an infectious agent and showing its presence in the blood.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr Edward Jenner was not the first to inoculate a person with cowpox to protect against smallpox.

In 1774 a dairy farmer named Benjamin Jesty was recorded to have inoculated his wife and two sons with matter from a cowpox lesion on one of his cows.

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