This Europe in the 18th Century. Smallpox is everywhere, 400,000 Europeans are dying from it each year. And there’s no cure, but there might be hope… there’s a doctor who thinks he’s found a way to fight the disease. All you need to do is let him infect you with some good, old-fashioned, cowpox-infected pus. Of course, there is this other doctor who says, “Sure, you could do that, but it will might make your face look like a cow’s.”
Jenner was an English doctor, the one most responsible for the smallpox vaccination and the controlling force of early immunology.
Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire on 17 May 1749, the son of the local vicar(a member of the clergy in charge of a chapel). At the age of 14, he was apprenticed to a local surgeon and then trained in London. In 1772, he returned to Berkeley and spent most the rest of his career as a doctor in his native town.
In 1796, he carried out his now famous experiment on eight-year-old James Phipps. Jenner inserted pus taken from a cowpox pustule and inserted it into an incision on the boy’s arm. Pretty disgusting right? He was testing his theory, drawn from the folklore of the countryside, that milkmaids who suffered the mild disease of cowpox never contracted smallpox, one of the greatest killers of the period, particularly among children. Jenner subsequently thought that having been inoculated with cowpox Phipps was immune to smallpox. He submitted a paper to the Royal Society in 1797 describing his experiment but was told that his ideas were too far fetched and that he needed more proof. Determined, Jenner experimented on several other children, including his own 11-month-old son! In 1798, the results were finally published and Jenner coined the word vaccine from the Latin ‘vacca’ for cow.
Jenner was widely ridiculed. Critics, especially the clergy, claimed it was repulsive and ungodly to inocculate someone with material from a diseased animal. A satirical cartoon of 1802 showed people who had been vaccinated sprouting cow’s heads. He died on 26 January 1823.