Known as “the father of immunology”, English scientist and physician Edward Jenner (1749-1843) is credited with developing the world’s first vaccine – the smallpox vaccine. Undoubtedly, Jenner, who was also the physician of King George IV of Britain, derived some bit of inspiration from the inoculation procedure enslaved American Onesimus used in Boston.
The English scientist and physician contribution to the smallpox vaccine is credited with saving countless lives and eventually eradicating the disease.
Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, and grew up in a family of farmers and clergymen. He received a basic education but did not attend university. Instead, he apprenticed with a surgeon and later became a country doctor.
In 1796, Jenner conducted an experiment that would change the course of medical history. He had observed that milkmaids who contracted cowpox, a mild disease that affected cows, did not develop smallpox, a deadly disease that was widespread in Europe at the time. Based on this observation, he hypothesized that cowpox might provide immunity to smallpox.
To test this theory, Jenner took material from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaid’s hand and injected it into the arm of an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps. The boy developed a mild case of cowpox but did not contract smallpox when he was later exposed to the disease. Jenner repeated the experiment with other patients and found that they too were protected from smallpox.
The scientist published his findings in 1798 in a book called “An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae,” which detailed his experiments and the principles behind the smallpox vaccine. The book was met with initial skepticism and resistance, but it gradually gained acceptance, and by the mid-1800s, vaccination had become widespread in Europe and the United States.
Edward Jenner’s work on the smallpox vaccine revolutionized medicine and had a profound impact on public health. By 1980, smallpox was fully eradicated, thanks in large part to the numerous intensive vaccination campaigns. According to the World Health Organization, it was the first modern disease to have been completely eradicated. His legacy lives on in the continued use of vaccines to prevent and control infectious diseases.