Back in 1798, British physician Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine. However, his research started taking different shapes. The physician himself went through a series of corrections of the original theory. Therefore, he adjusted the treatment accordingly. However, other unreported changes were coming from different physicians. In the end, the origin of the most important cure ever created got lost in time.
However, an international team of scientists might be on the verge of an insightful discovery. The group led by Andreas Nitsche at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin got a rare opportunity to study an essential element from a private collection. The matter in question is a vaccine specimen that dates back to 1902.
It was H.K. Mulford Co. that manufactured the substance. The company, later on, merged with Sharpe and Dohme only to take its final form by the side of Merck & Co. in 1953. This detective work helped scientists track down the development of the first vaccine in human’s history that eradicated a disease.
The History of the Vaccine Became Blurry in the 1930’s
For centuries, scientists believed that the active agent in the smallpox vaccine stemmed from the cowpox virus. That’s because Jenner showed great interest in milkers who had cowpox and developed immunity to smallpox.
Jenner even extracted pustular material from persons working with cattle and infected with cowpox. He would use the ingredient to inoculate people with the contagious viral disease. This process became later on known as vaccination. The treatment delivered great results.
However, the picture got blurry in the late 1930s. Scientists took a closer look at the composition. They found that the vaccine had nothing to do with the cowpox virus. Since then, the vaccina virus that makes the vaccine effective has unknown origins.
The Consolidated Formula for Smallpox Vaccine Doesn’t Contain Horsepox or Cowpox Anymore
On October 12, the international team that studied the 1902 Mulford vaccine specimen brought light to this case through their published article on New England Journal of Medicine. They concluded that the original vaccine used horsepox agents. This is the first time on record when scientists found evidence that horsepox was used to immunize against smallpox.
However, the mystery doesn’t end here. Today’s specimen of smallpox vaccine contains neither horsepox nor cowpox agents. The only active ingredient remains vaccina which has unknown origins.
Nonetheless, Nitsche’s team will continue to look for clues. They are asking collectors to donate any available historical samples to better understand this powerful vaccine.
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