Publication Date

February 15, 2012

The History of Vaccines websiteThe History of Vaccines website is a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia that has been recognized by both the 2011 Best of the Web awards and the Webby Awards.

The site offers well-researched articles on the history of disease and vaccines, a gallery of historic documents and images collected from museums and other institutions, timelines to help visitors understand diseases and vaccines through history, and activities that use interaction to promote learning.

Travel from 900 CE, when Persian physician Rhazes produced the first published comparison of measles and smallpox, all the way to the 2010 cholera epidemic in Haiti, through the Timelines section of the History of Vaccines website. There are four timelines in all, broken up into all topics, diseases and vaccines, pioneers, and science and society.

Each entry on the timeline is accompanied by a related image or document scan. For example, the timeline entry for 5/14/1796, when “Edward Jenner tested the hypothesis that infection with cowpox could protect a person from smallpox infection,” is paired with an image from the National Library of Medicine. For the timeline entry for 1900, when U.S. army researchers discovered the cause of yellow fever, there’s an image of a Robert Thom painting depicting “yellow fever commission members in Cuba.”

The History of Vaccines timeline

The website also features some fascinating and well-cited articles. Near the bottom of each article click the “See This Item in the Timeline” button to get a perspective of where this event falls in history. The “History and Science” collection in the article section features a dozen pieces on vaccines throughout history, looking at culture, military involvement, pandemics, and more. Here are just a few:

  • History of Anti-Vaccination Movements
    While anti-vaccine groups have been in the news in recent years (for example, the contingent of parents who fear vaccines can contribute to the development of autism), anti-vaccination movements are not a recent occurrence. This article details how “opposition to vaccination has existed as long as vaccination itself.” Learn about these movements beginning with the 1721 Boston smallpox epidemic.
  • Influenza Pandemics
    In 2009, after the swine flu pandemic, we rounded up resources on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic here on AHA Today. Learn more about Spanish influenza in 1918, as well as about Asian influenza in the 1950s, Hong Kong flu in the 1960s, and more recent flu outbreaks in this article on the History of Vaccines website.
  • U.S. Military and Vaccine History
    Throughout history, the U.S. military has been hit with infectious disease outbreaks in the troops and led efforts to find treatments and develop vaccines. There have also been darker moments in this history, including using smallpox as a weapon against Native Americans. The History of Vaccines website touches on all these points in this article.

The Activities section of the website offers interactive ways to learn more about “the past, present, and future of vaccination and infectious disease.” For instance, the History of the Immunization Schedule has users click through a timeline from 1945 through 2005 to learn how and why the list of recommended vaccines has evolved over the years.

While the immunization schedule is notably less interactive than some of the other activities, like Illsville, a game on the site where you “fight a disease,” it is a brief and informative overview of population health over time.

History of Vaccines galleryA collection of images, documents, paintings, and videos in the Gallery section of the site can be searched by disease and vaccination name, pioneers, science and society, media type, and date range. A number of individuals, museums, presidential libraries, and other institutions contributed holdings from their collections to be included in the Gallery.

Want more on the history of vaccines? Follow the website’s blog, check out its resources for parents, and find activities and lesson plans for use in the classroom.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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