Culture

Edward Jenner: #OnThisDay

On 17th of May 1749 Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England. He was the son of a vicar. At age 14 he was apprenticed to train as a surgeon with Daniel Ludlow and then under John Hunter at St George’s Hospital London. In 1792 he qualified with an MD from St Andrew’s University.

At this time 10% of the population of Britain died as a result of contracting smallpox and many others were disfigured who survived it.

There were already inoculations but this had its own risks. People also feared that those inoculated would become carriers and transfer the disease to others.

A similar disease to smallpox, cowpox, had been noted by others researching for a vaccine. A successful immunisation against cow pox had been carried out by a few.

On May14th 1796 Edward Jenner innoculated the son of his gardener, 8 year old James Phipps with  pus from cowpox blisters on the hands of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid.

He then went on to test his method out on 23 other people, including his own young son.

 Edward Jenner vaccinating his young child, held by Mrs Jenner; a maid rolls up her sleeve, a man stands outside holding a cow. Coloured engraving by C. Manigaud after E Hamman.

Edward Jenner vaccinating his young child, held by Mrs Jenner; a maid rolls up her sleeve, a man stands outside holding a cow. Coloured engraving by C. Manigaud after E Hamman. Credit: Wellcome Library, London

In 1840 the Vaccination Act made vaccination optional but free of charge. An important step when there was no NHS and people had to pay for treatment. Later Acts removed the optional component to the legislation.

In 1979 the World Health Organisation declared the world free of smallpox. The world had come together to eradicate this dreadful disease through an international programme of vaccination and public health measures.

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In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs.

—Francis Galton

1 reply »

  1. Are you not forgetting the pioneering work carried out by the self-taught crofter physician who had developed his own serum and treated 3,000 local people in and around Hillswick, Shetland before Jenner? And his name you ask was John Williamson AKA ‘Johnnie Notions’. Like Orkney’s John Rae a conveniently forgotten hero!!!

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