The race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 has starkly illustrated just how important the procedure has become in preventing devastating outbreaks of disease. $8 billion has now been pledged by 40 countries and donors in an effort to fund research and development of a safe and effective vaccine or treatment for coronavirus. Vaccines have been around for a long time and the first one is generally credited to Edward Jenner, an English doctor who injected pus from a cowpox pustule into an incision on an eight-year old's arm on May 14, 1796. The boy then proved immune to smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases at that time.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows just how effective vaccination has been in eradicating major diseases in the United States. Take smallpox as an example. In the 20th century, it was responsible for 29,000 cases on average annually and in 2019, none were recorded, a 100 percent decrease. Even though the measles has made a minor resurgence in recent years (due to anti-vaccine decision making), its morbidity (case count) is nowhere near average annual highs in the 20th century when half a million people were infected. Its prevalence has fallen by more than 99 percent due to vaccinations, along with a whole host of other diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), mumps, rubella, polio and diphtheria.