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1749: Edward Jenner: The Man who may have Saved the Most Lives in Human History

1749: Edward Jenner: The Man who may have Saved the Most Lives in Human History
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 17 May 1749
  • He became a doctor and was open to new knowledge derived from experience. The important thing he noticed was the fact that women who were engaged in milking cows did not usually suffer from smallpox (variola).

This day in 1749 marked the birth of the famous Edward Jenner, the “father of immunology” who made the practice of vaccinating humans against infectious diseases widespread, which has to date saved millions, if not billions of lives.

Jenner was born in the English city of Berkeley as the son of a local Anglican priest and he received a solid education.

He became a doctor and was open to new knowledge derived from experience. At that time (the 18th century), many people in Europe were dying of smallpox (variola).

The victims were from all strata of the population – not even kings were immune to the disease. As many as five ruling monarchs died from smallpox in that century alone, including the powerful French King Louis XV.

If anyone survived smallpox, they would remain either blind (one-third of Europe’s blind people lost sight because of it) or would be permanently disfigured (supposedly the widespread use of makeup at that time was due to the need to hide the scars).

The important thing that Jenner noticed was the fact that women who were engaged in milking cows did not usually suffer from smallpox. He concluded that these women were in contact with “cowpox”, a similar virus, but much less dangerous for humans.

He began to collect secretions from blisters on the hands of milkmaids, which contained the “cowpox” virus. He vaccinated healthy people with this virus. When he proved that such vaccination protects against smallpox, the practice soon spread throughout England and Europe.

The new procedure was named vaccination, from the Latin word “vacca” for cow. By the year 1977, smallpox was completely eradicated throughout the world by means of vaccination.

To this day it remains one of only two viruses that have been eradicated (no human being currently suffers from smallpox). The smallpox virus exists only in laboratories.

Since vaccination against it is no longer enforced today, the virus stored in laboratories is potentially an extremely dangerous biological weapon.

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