Illustrated cover shows a smiling man and the words Keep Well.

NLM Collections Tour: Vaccines

Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Today we are featuring collections about vaccines.

These collections document the history of social and scientific efforts to understand infectious disease and protect people and communities. They preserve the stories of those whose lives were shaped by the threat of disease and the promise of vaccines.

NLM staff have selected these highlights from the collections for you to explore. We welcome questions! Use the comment feature below to share your thoughts.

Selections from NLM Digital Collections

NLM Digital Collections is the National Library of Medicine’s free online repository of biomedical resources including books, manuscripts, and still and moving images. Here you will find many materials related to vaccines.


Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), within NLM Digital Collections, illustrate the use of vaccines in many different time period and locations.

Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:

 Children/School ImmunizationChinese Public Health | Maternal Health
Physicians Administering Injections | World Health Organization

Explore inoculation images in the NLM image collections on Flickr.

Historical Films

Mission, Measles: The Story of a Vaccine—This film examines the development and distribution of the measles vaccine, the scientists and pharmaceutical companies who led or participated, the testing and trials, and an uncomfortable measles-ridden child in bed.

Watch a few other films related to past public health events and epidemics which are relevant to understanding the present and future:

  • Miracle in Tonga—In this film smallpox vaccine is administered throughout the islands, with doctors using a foot-pedal operated “jet” injector. Tongan royalty are vaccinated first, publicly, to inspire popular confidence in the vaccine.
  • Immunization against Infectious Disease—This film addresses a dozen or more diseases for which vaccines have been developed and includes brief footage of people who have contracted whooping cough, diphtheria, smallpox, polio…illustrating the dangers of the pre-vaccine era for these illnesses.
  • Emmy Immunity—These animated public service announcements feature “four dangerous characters” thwarted by the protection afforded their intended victims by immunization. Emmy Immunity is a pigtailed little girl who emphasizes the importance of vaccinations. Read more about Emmy Immunity.

Books and Journals

Flip through this World War II era pamphlet, Keep Well! Here’s How, ca. 1943, by the Medical Division, War Shipping Administration and United Seamen’s Service, Inc. It explains how “Germs can’t win against these weapons—they don’t even get started….Shots are ammunition.”

Medicine in the Americas, 1610-1920

This group of materials consists of selected digitized English language monographs which demonstrate the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century. For example, here are two works from the early days of smallpox vaccine research:

Waterhouse was quick to see the value and possibilities of Jenner’s work and believed widespread inoculation with cowpox matter could be a safe preventive measure against the ravages of smallpox. He entered into correspondence with Jenner and received from him some specimens of thread impregnated with the vaccine matter. —Gilt by Association, Countway Library, 2003

“Waterhouse introduced Jennerian vaccination into the U.S.A. He vaccinated his own child as his first case. ”—Garrison-Morton

“Coxe did much to destroy ignorant prejudice against vaccination; he was the first in Philadelphia to practice it. Like Waterhouse, he inoculated his own child as his first case.”—Garrison-Morton

Title page of Practical Observations on Vaccination with illutrations of the marks of vaccination and Smallpox over a month's time.

Archive and Manuscript Collections

A letter printed on a dot matrix printer, with the ACTUP logo on it.
Letter from ACT UP, 1990
MS C 618, box 1 folder 32

The June E. Osborn Papers—Correspondence, reports, speeches, testimonies, hearings, audiovisual material, and biographical material primarily document June Osborn’s professional career as expert advisor in urgent health and medical issues—including AIDS, virology, infectious diseases, vaccines, and public health policy—for numerous government agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Commission on AIDS, of which she was chair.

View the Finding Aid | Read more about June Osborn

Global Health Events Web Archive

When future researchers look back at global health events in the modern era, what resources will they want to explore? Of the news and information that is created and shared digitally over the web, what will remain to be examined one, ten, or even fifty years from now? This content is in a constant state of change and at high risk for loss.

The NLM web archive collection on Global Health Events is a collection of websites archived by the National Library of Medicine beginning in 2014. Included in the archive are websites and social media of government and non-government organizations, journalists, healthcare workers, and scientists in the United States and around the world. Topics include vaccines, social dimensions, prevention and control, biomedical research, and more.

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) | Ebola Outbreak 2014 | Zika Virus | More . . .

NLM Exhibitions and Events

The National Library of Medicine curates stories about the social and cultural history of science and medicine that enhance awareness of and appreciation for the collections and health information resources of the National Library of Medicine. This work encourages enthusiasm for history and nurtures young professionals in the fields of history, the health professions, and biomedical sciences.

Explore scholarship around the history of Epidemics at NLM.


LogoRashes to Research: Scientists and Parents Confront the 1964 Rubella Epidemic highlights the work of researchers and parents to limit the impact of rubella in the years before an effective vaccine nearly eliminated the disease from the United States.

logoMaking a World of Difference: Stories About Global Health examines people’s efforts to improve health in their communities and around the world and includes the story of the 1985 Health as a Bridge for Peace campaign to eradicate polio from the Americas.

Profiles in Science

A man watches a woman in a lab coat manipulate chemicals.The Wilbur A. Sawyer Papers: The Yellow Fever Laboratory: Rockefeller Foundation, 1928-1937—Wilbur Augustus Sawyer (1879–1951) was a key figure in preventive medicine and international public health during the first part of the twentieth century. As a public health administrator, Sawyer helped expand public health departments and integrate laboratory science into public health work, both in the U.S. and abroad. During his long career with the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division (IHD), he served as director of the Rockefeller Foundation public health laboratory service, director of the Rockefeller Foundation Yellow Fever Laboratory (where he developed the first effective yellow fever vaccine), and director of the IHD from 1935 to 1944.

A man prepares a boy's arm for a shot while other children look on.The Fred L. Soper Papers: Fighting Yellow Fever and Malaria in Brazil, 1928-1942—Fred L. Soper (1893–1977) was an American epidemiologist and public health administrator who won a Lasker Award in 1946 for organizing successful campaigns to eradicate yellow fever and malaria between 1927 and 1945. He also made key contributions to the control of typhus fever during World War II, and served as director of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (the executive agency of the Pan American Health Organization) from 1947 to 1959. Throughout his career, he set new standards for disease control worldwide.

NLM History Talks

A woman speaks in an auditorium.

Other Resources on the History of Vaccines

Finding Aids to Archive and Manuscript Collections

Finding aids are the main access point and research support tool provided for the Archives and Modern Manuscripts, Prints and Photographs, and Films and Videos collections. These aids offer detailed descriptions of large aggregations of materials. Many of the collections contain content related to vaccines including:

  • 2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic Response Archives oral history collection—36 interviews conducted by historian Sheena Morrison with DHHS federal staff as part of her work on the larger 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response Documentation Archive. | Read the Transcripts
  • General Oral Histories collection—A selection, from a wide range of oral histories, that contain information about vaccines
  • Edward Shorter Collection—Interviews conducted during the preparation of his 1987 book The Health Century,
  • Robert Chanock Papers—Chanock and his team developed vaccines for Hepatitis A, rotavirus, and West Nile virus as well as the first nasal spray flu vaccine.
  • Polio Vaccine Collection—Reports, memoranda, and correspondence relating to the US Public Health Service’s involvement in the introduction of the Salk polio vaccine.
  • International Rehabilitation Center for Polio ‘Polio Voices’ Oral History Collection—Audio tapes, transcribed interviews, notes, and photographs document the experiences of polio survivors, family members, healthcare professionals, and others interviewed by Julie Silver as part of the International Rehabilitation Center for Polio’s Polio Oral History Project. The project was conducted through the Center’s Spaulding Outpatient Center, Framingham, MA. The compiled information was largely used for the book Polio Voices: An Oral History from the American Polio Epidemics and Worldwide Eradication Efforts by Julie K. Silver and Daniel Wilson.

NIH Lectures

The NLM Collection Tours series provides highlights from the diverse historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on a variety of contemporary topics in health and medicine. Some library services, such as our scan on demand service are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are available to answer questions.

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