Receiving a ‘live virus vaccine’ sounds scary. Who wouldn’t think twice about receiving a travel vaccination that contained a live virus? Relax, scientists and the pharmaceutical companies know what they are doing. In fact, a milestone experiment in vaccination from the 18th century, used a live virus.
Edward Jenner, observed in England that milkmaids who had developed the disease cowpox did not develop the more serious illness of smallpox. In a bold experiment in 1796, he inoculated a young boy with cowpox fluid, and then exposed the child to smallpox several weeks later. The boy remained well. Such an experiment would not be permitted today, but Jenner’s pioneering work has benefitted humanity to this very day. Trivia enthusiasts should know that the term vaccine is derived from the Latin word vaca, for cow.
Yellow fever vaccine, a safe and effective live virus vaccine, is administered to millions of people today. This does not make healthy people sick because the virus has been altered so that it cannot cause disease. Side effects are rare. Xcellerex, a vaccine development company has just announced exciting research that they are testing a new yellow fever vaccine that does not include live virus. If successful, this will permit yellow fever vaccination to travelers who cannot receive the traditional live vaccine. Travel doctors will not give live virus vaccines to pregnant women, patients with impaired immune systems from illness or medications or to those with a severe egg allergies.
Yellow fever, common in African and South America, is spread by mosquitoes. It can cause serious illness to international travelers. Vaccination is critical as there is no treatment for this disease. Some countries require yellow fever vaccination before entry, but it’s not your protection they’re concerned about.
Live virus vaccines are part of the bedrock of standard medical practice. Examples of live virus vaccines include:
- Oral Polio Vaccine
Talk to your travel doctor about yellow fever vaccine and other important travel vaccinations. Don’t worry about receiving a live virus vaccine. The real worry should be contracting the disease. Safe travels!