Edward Jenner And The Discovery Of Vaccines

1132 words - 5 pages

Edward Jenner and the Discovery of Vaccines

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) trained in London, under John Hunter, and
was an army surgeon for a period of time. After that, he spent his
whole career as a country doctor in his home county, Gloucestershire
(West of England). His research was based on careful case studies and
clinical observation more than a hundred years before scientists could
explain what viruses and diseases actually were. His innovative new
method was successful to such an extent that by 1840 the British
government had banned alternative preventive treatments against


His invention of vaccination against smallpox was the medical
breakthrough that saved the most lives, before antibiotics came into
mass use. Before Jenner's vaccine, smallpox was a killer disease; the
majority of its victims were infants and young children. In the
twentieth century alone it killed more than 300 million -
approximately three times the number of deaths from all of that
century's wars and battles combined.

The last reported case of smallpox occurred in Somalia. There, on
October 26, 1977, a youth named Ali Maow Maalin recovered from a rash
caused by smallpox. He was entitled the last case of natural smallpox
in the world. In 1980, thanks to Jenner's discovery, the World Health
Assembly officially declared "the world and its peoples" free from
endemic smallpox.

When Jenner began medical practice at Berkeley (in Gloucestershire) he
was asked a lot, to inoculate persons against smallpox. Inoculation
was not a common practice in the English countryside until around 1768
when Robert Sutton (of Debenham, Suffolk) improved it. Sutton required
the patient to rest and maintain a strict diet for two weeks before
inoculation. He inoculated by taking a very small quantity of fluid
from an unripe smallpox pustule, on the point of a lancet, and
inserting it between the outer and inner layers of the skin of the
upper arm without drawing blood. He did not use a bandage to cover the

Jenner had always been fascinated by the rural old wives' tale that
milkmaids could not get smallpox. He believed that there was a
connection between the fact that milkmaids only got a weak version of
smallpox (the non-life threatening cowpox) but did not get the strong
version, smallpox itself. A milkmaid who caught cowpox got blisters on
her hands and Jenner concluded that it must be the pus in the blisters
that somehow protected the milkmaids.

Jenner began to inoculate against smallpox using Sutton's method, but
he soon found some patients to be completely resistant to the disease.
Upon investigation, he found that these patients had previously had
cowpox. Jenner concluded that cowpox not only protected against
smallpox, but also could be transferred from one human being to

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