As researchers develop COVID-19 vaccine, a look back at vaccines that eradicated deadly viruses

Smallpox, polio wiped out in US
Posted at 9:28 PM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 21:28:33-04

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As worldwide cases approach 700,000 and virus-related deaths top 33,000 as of Monday, 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create a vaccine against coronavirus/COVID-19.

The latest among them is Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest healthcare company, which says the vaccine would be ready for clinical human trials in September. Vaccines would be ready for emergency use by early 2021, the company says. Most health officials say that even on an accelerated timeline, the fall of 2021 is the earliest that a COVID-19 vaccine would be widely available.

Johnson & Johnson's initial COVID-19 vaccine development began in January, and the company has since committed more than $1 billion to the vaccine’s research.

Smallpox, a disease that killed countless people since the 4th century, was eradicated from the world in 1980. Routine vaccination for the virus is no longer necessary in the U.S. since it was eradicated from here in 1972. No cases have naturally occurred in America since 1949.

Prior to the smallpox vaccine, 30% of people who contracted smallpox died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, the only people who receive the vaccine are lab workers who routinely study the virus.

Polio, another potentially deadly disease that infects the spinal cord and brain, was similarly eradicated in the U.S. in 1979. The first available vaccine came in 1955 credited to Jonas Salk, who did not patent the vaccine.

The poliovirus has not been eradicated in other countries, however, which is why the CDC still recommends children receive vaccinations

While there is no vaccine for COVID-19 right now, health experts say the best defense against contracting the virus is to follow social distancing protocol, practice frequent hand-washing and use good hygiene.