26 January-Smallpox

Edward Jenner was a native of England. He was a doctor who introduced the vaccine for smallpox. It was the first vaccine in the world but it was several decades before its full benefits were realised. Jenner is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human”.

Edward Anthony Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire on May 17th 1749. He was apprenticed to a surgeon at the age of 14. He later trained in St George’s Hospital, London. Having completed his training he returned to work as a doctor his hometown of Berkeley.

Smallpox was one of the biggest killers at the time. Jenner noted that milkmaids caught cowpox but never contracted smallpox. In 1796 he took a sample of pus from a cowpox pustule on a milkmaid called Sarah Nelmes. He inserted the sample into a cut on the arm of an eight year old boy named James Phipps. When Phipps was later exposed to smallpox he was found to be immune.

Jenner was ridiculed at first but the success of his experiment became widely known. Vaccination became widespread. Jenner worked to improve the vaccine. He also carried out research in other areas of science. Smallpox vaccination was made compulsory in England in 1853. The World Health Organisation declared that smallpox was an eradicated disease in 1979.

Edward Jenner, the doctor who introduced the vaccine for smallpox and who is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other human”, died aged 73 in the year 1823 On This Day.

Smallpox blisters on arm (NCP 10520), National Museum of Health and Medicine

Jenner’s House, Berkeley