Edward Jenner: The Story of Vaccination

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The 18th century saw a major global smallpox epidemic; with 25% of those contracting the disease being killed - others blinded or scarred. Originally, there was no known cure. As a result, it was common for victims to simply be left isolated to limit the effects of the disease's contagiousness - they would either die or survive.

A procedure developed in the east, around China and India, was inoculation. This involved making small incisions within an individuals arm, before smearing smallpox pus over it. This was designed to ensure resistance to the disease, thus allowing immunity. It wasn't always effective, but people acknowledged that the risks presented by smallpox itself were more significant than those of inoculation. Furthermore, it provided a useful income to inoculators. It became popular in Britain after 1718, when Lady Mary Worltey Montagu had her child inoculated in front of a number of British physicians. She was the wife of the British Ambassador in Turkey, where she had seen inoculation being carried out. 

Edward Jenner was a Gloucestershire doctor, who noticed that milkmaids that contracted cowpox would not then suffer from smallpox. He tested out his hypothesis upon eight-year-old boy James Phipps; making cuts within his arm to cover with the cowpox pus of milkmaid, Sarah Nelmes. Though he suffered a…


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