Viruses and Vaccines from the Past to the Present

May 25, 2020 | Ann

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Right now, researchers in Canada and around the world are working to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and we are all eagerly awaiting news and updates. At the same time, there have been many articles comparing the COVID-19 virus and pandemic to other viruses and pandemics throughout history. In many cases, scientists discovering treatments and developing vaccines halted the spread of these viruses, improving and preserving human life. Read on for books and online resources on historic viruses and vaccines.

For reputable, contemporary information on vaccines, be sure to check out the reading list, Toronto Public Health Recommends: Books on Vaccination.

Gloved hand holding model viruses
Image by Daniel Foster on a Creative Commons license.


Books on Epidemics, Viruses and Vaccines

Epidemics & the Natural World by Mitchell L Hammond

Epidemics and the Modern World by Mitchell L. Hammond. Print only.

This recent title by Canadian author Mitchell L. Hammond explores the relationships between epidemics and key themes in modern history. These themes include colonial structures, relationships to animals, perceptions of suffering and more.

Digital books on epidemics in history.


Edward Jenner - Pocket Giants by Rob Boddice

Edward Jenner by Rob Boddice. Print only.

"Edward Jenner is a giant of modern medicine. Throughout history, smallpox had plagued humanity with disfigurement, blindness, and death. It was an incurable blight, the suffering of which Jenner helped bring to an end. This is the story of Jenner’s life, his medical vision, and his profound legacy."


Smallpox: the death of a disease

Smallpox: The Death of a Disease by Donald A Henderson.

"This spellbinding book is Dr. Henderson’s personal story of how he led the World Health Organization’s campaign to eradicate smallpox—the only disease in history to have been deliberately eliminated. Some have called this feat, "the greatest scientific and humanitarian achievement of the past century"."

Digital books about vaccines in history.


Jonas Salk - a life by Charlotte Jacobs

Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte Jacobs.

"When a waiting world learned on April 12, 1955, that Jonas Salk had successfully created a vaccine to prevent poliomyelitis, he became a hero overnight."

Digital books about polio.


Louis Pasteur by Debra Patrice

Louis Pasteur by Patrice Debré. Print only.

"Distinguished French immunologist and physician Patrice Debré offers an extensive, balanced, and detailed account of Louis Pasteur’s life, struggles, and contributions."


The End of Plagues by John Rhodes

The End of Plagues by John Rhodes.

Spanning three centuries, The End of Plagues weaves together the discovery of vaccination, the birth and growth of immunology, and the fight to eradicate the world’s most feared diseases.


Videos and Tutorials

With your library card, you can access several streaming services with lectures, courses and documentaries. To access these resources, you will be asked to sign in with your library card.


Our Digital Archive

You can also visit our Digital Archive for great historical photos on medical care, research and vaccinations, such as the two below.

Scientists working on a vaccine
Researcher working on a drug to combat herpes, 1980. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


Polio vaccine shot
Receiving a polio vaccination, 1950. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


COVID-19 Information

For up to date information on COVID-19, check out our information guide. Updated daily, we recommend these resources: