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Edward Jenner

There are a number of people who devote their lives to just one cause, and English surgeon and the discoverer of smallpox vaccine Edward Jenner counts among them. While it would be wrong to say he devoted his entire life to vaccination, it certainly was the case after his smallpox vaccine breakthrough.


Edward Jenner

Jenner received worldwide recognition for his efforts in slowing down the death rate caused by smallpox. Despite this, the man simply refused to enrich himself. What he did instead was focus much of his time to the vaccination cause resulting in great damage to his private practice and personal affairs.

A recipient of attacks and false accusations, Jenner kept going for the sake of vaccination. When his wife died of tuberculosis in 1815, he retired from public life.

Here is a man whose work is said to have "saved more lives than the work of any other human" yet we also find that he was not much appreciated. But no matter how depressing Jenner's circumstances were, his legacy will surely live on. In 1979, smallpox was declared by the World Health Organization as an eradicated disease. His vaccine became the foundation for contemporary discoveries in immunology.

It's about time that we get to know the man whose curiosity led to one of the biggest breakthroughs in the world of medicine.

Early life

Born on May 17, 1749 in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England, Edward Jenner was ushered into a world where British medical practice and education was changing. It was a time when hospital work was becoming a much more important way of acquiring medical knowledge than academic work.

At the age of 13, Jenner was apprenticed to a nearby surgeon. He acquired a sound knowledge of medical and surgical practice in the eight years that followed. After completing his apprenticeship at the age of 21, he went to London and became the house pupil of John Hunter, one of the most prominent surgeons in London.

Hunter was so much an influence in Jenner's life, and is evidenced by his love of experimental investigation.

The vaccine that changed the world

In the 18th century, smallpox was such a widespread disease leading to very high death rates. In fact, it was a leading cause of death at the time as it left no social class untouched. While there was a cure - through a primitive form of vaccination called variolation - it wasn't always effective.

Variolation relied on infecting a healthy person with "matter" from someone suffering from smallpox.

What intrigued Jenner though was the fact that someone who suffered from cowpox - a harmless disease contracted from cattle - can't be infected by smallpox. Jenner hypothesized that cowpox can protect against smallpox and it could be transmitted from one person to another as a protective mechanism.

Jenner did test out this theory. In May 1796, he found Sarah Nelmes, a young dairymaid who had fresh cowpox lesions on her hand. Using the matter from her lesions, he inoculated James Phipps (an eight-year-old boy who never had smallpox) on May 14. Phipps became ill during the next nine days but was well on the tenth.

On July 1, Jenner inoculated Phipps again, but this time he used smallpox matter. Phipps didn't develop the disease and proved Jenner's theory right. After further testing this theory, Jenner published a book called An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccine.

Jenner went to London to seek volunteers for vaccination but was not successful. However, vaccination became popular thanks to surgeon Henry Cline (whom Jenner shared the inoculant with) and doctors George Pearson and William Woodville.

Despite Jenner's findings not being accepted at first, eventually it was proven that vaccination was indeed effective. Soon after, the procedure spread to America and the rest of Europe. Later on, it spread to the rest of the world.

Edward Jenner lived to be 73 years old. He suffered what was an apparent stroke on January 26, 1823. Days before his death, he said to a friend: "I am not surprised that men are not grateful to me; but I wonder that they are not grateful to God for the good which he has made me the instrument of conveying to my fellow creatures."


Rumor Has It

that Edward Jenner, as a child, contracted both LargePox and PigPox at the same time, inspiring him to vaccinate his cat, Jesse, against James disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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