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Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine and if so when? These are some of the biggest questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out this virtual exhibit to discover how vaccines are made, fight viruses, herd immunity, and more.


I created a vaccination strategy that led to the eradication (complete destruction) of smallpox in 1979. It’s the only infectious disease to be eradicated so far.

In 1953, I developed the world’s first safe and effective polio vaccine. The year before, the disease caused the death of 3,000 Americans and left 20,000 more paralyzed.

During the second half of the 20th century, I developed more than 40 vaccines—including those for measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, and meningitis—that have saved tens of millions of lives.

Acting on common knowledge in the 1700s that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox did not fall ill with smallpox, I created a new procedure—which I called “vaccination”—to protect others against the disease.

When we created the first effective vaccine for pertussis (whooping cough) in the 1930s, the disease was taking the lives of 6,000 a year in the U.S. alone.

Until we developed the rabies vaccine in 1885, almost all rabies infections resulted in an agonizing death.

Pregnant women who are infected with rubella virus are at risk for miscarriage or stillbirth. Their developing babies are at risk for severe birth defects, including:

  • Deafness
  • Cataracts
  • Heart defects
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Liver and spleen damage
  • And others

About half of babies younger than 1 year old with whooping cough are hospitalized. Of those, possible complications are:

  • Pneumonia
  • Apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • Convulsions
  • Brain damage
  • Death (1 in 100)

Possible complications:

  • Meningitis (swelling of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord)
  • Deafness
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • Death, in rare cases

Possible complications:

  • Meningitis
  • Paralysis or weakness in the arms, legs, or both
  • Of those with paralysis, death can occur because the virus affects the muscles that help them breathe (2–10 in 100)

Measles is especially dangerous for children under 5 and adults over 20. Possible complications:

  • Ear infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness, or intellectual disability
  • Death (1 in 1,000)