When the first vaccines for COVID-19 were developed, many were skeptical about their effectiveness and possible risks because it was created rather quickly. However, the virus was identified in December 2019, and after a year, Pfizer’s vaccine received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Usually, vaccines take around 10 to 15 years to develop, having to go through different phases of testing and clinical trials before administering to the public. Before COVID-19, the fastest vaccine to create was for mumps, which took four years. However, there are some instances when the world does not have the luxury of time, and vaccines should be rushed. The same thing happened during World War II when the war couldn’t just wait.

War Within the War

Whenever we think of war, it is not just always about the guns and explosives, the soldiers in uniform marching and gallantry fighting for their beliefs. It’s also weeks of no proper bath or even brushing teeth, murky water, vermin-infested trenches, and open wounds. In addition, people are traveling and more likely carrying or catching germs and viruses that they don’t have immunity against. The diseases could grow and spread in an area, and people could not stop the spread.

Caskets of American soldiers in Cuba | HSL University of Virginia. (pbs.org)

During the Spanish-American War, typhoid fever became the major killer of American soldiers, contributing to 82% of the sick soldiers, with a 7.7 mortality rate. During the American Civil war, two-thirds of the 750,000 recorded military death was from diseases. At that time, diseases like smallpox, citrus, fresh vegetable scurvy, and malaria were treated by attempting to alleviate the symptoms instead of getting to the root cause. The number improved in World War I, when sanitation practices improved a bit, although the Spanish flu still killed between 20 and 40 million people.

Creating the Commission

When World War II broke out, the US government realized that diseases were as a threat as the enemies to their troops. To prevent past mistakes, they partnered with academics and industries to develop vaccines that would make the soldiers immune to diseases before they were sent off to fight. This was to avoid soldiers from having to leave due to sickness. While the partnership was good, the scientists realized they were being held back by the organization’s constraints, limiting them from coming up with the much-needed shots for the troops.