A Brief History
On May 14, 1796, English scientist Edward Jenner used pus scraped from a cowpox pustule to inoculate his gardener’s son, the first ever vaccine used. Cowpox is a disease similar to smallpox, but much more mild, similar to chicken pox.
Jenner and others observed the fact that milkmaids frequently got cowpox, but never seemed to get smallpox, and smallpox was a deadly disease that killed about 20 percent of Europe’s population (with about 60 percent of that population getting the disease).
Purposely infecting the boy with cowpox and after the boy recovered exposing him to smallpox resulted in no smallpox infection. Voila! History’s first vaccine. Other people had observed this cause and effect before Jenner, but Jenner being a doctor and a researcher made the practice official. Widespread use of smallpox vaccines resulted in a decrease in the spread of this killer virus and by 1979 smallpox was declared eradicated from the earth by the World Health Organization.
In a 2002 countrywide BBC poll, the United Kingdom voted Jenner one of history’s 100 Greatest Britons. Just to be on the safe side, scientists keep samples of smallpox under lock and key just in case they are needed if there is any new outbreak of smallpox from an overlooked source.
Thanks to researchers like Jenner, Pasteur, Salk and Sabin, we have a myriad of vaccines today to inoculate us against forms of plague, forms of hepatitis, tetanus, rabies, various viruses, and a host of other maladies. Sometimes ignorance and false rumors result in resistance to the use of vaccines, such as the Lucasville Prison Riot in Ohio and the reluctance of backward peoples in the third world (mainly Africa and Asia) that are afraid to be inoculated for fear the vaccine is a nefarious American plot to poison them. False rumors in the US have been promulgated about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (that prevents genital warts and the onset of Cervical cancer) making parents reluctant to have their girls vaccinated.
Edward Jenner is remembered and celebrated as the “Father of Vaccination” and it has been said that he saved more lives than any other person (although one would think Louis Pasteur would be right there with him.) If you ever travel overseas, especially in the US military, you will get so many inoculations you will be stunned! Cracked fact: American pioneers used a form of biological warfare by giving Native-Americans blankets that had been intentionally infested with smallpox in order to kill off the Native population. This technique was fiendishly successful and millions of Native-Americans died of smallpox.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been vaccinated? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Marrin, Albert. Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vaccine. Dutton Juvenile, 2002.