Edward Jenner, Born in 1749, was a typical British physician and rural practitioner, educated under John Hunter. His most well-known contribution to human knowledge is the important discovery of the principles of inoculation.

He first begant to study the principles of inoculation when he realized that milkmaids who had had minor cowpox boils on their hands from milking cows were, afterward, immune from the smallpox disease.

He tested his theories in July of 1796 during which time introduced a benign dosage of cowpox matter (thanks liveforever) into a young boy, James Phipps, from a donor, Sarah Nelmes. Forty-Five days after the inoculation took place Jenner exposed the boy to an arguably larger dosage of the smallpox virus, and to his delight the boy did not become infected.

Jenner published his finding of 123 total cases in 1796, and his discovery was rapidly accepted and popularized. By 1800, more than 6,000 individuals had undergone innoculation in the same manner. Even Catherine the Great received an inoculation, a privilege for which she paid 12,000 pounds sterling.

Jenner died a national hero in 1823.

Edward Jenner: The Father of the Vaccination

Edward Jenner influenced the world of medicine by creating the first vaccination and because of his life long commitment to cure smallpox. He didn’t strive to cure smallpox because a greed of fame or money, but instead he did it to help humanity. He struggled his whole life to accomplish this goal, and still he asked for nothing. He often vaccinated the poor people of Great Britain for free, and because of Edward Jenner smallpox became extinct in every civilized country. Edward was born May 17, 1749 in Gloucestershire England to a humble clergyman of their local church. His father died only months later, and Edward was sent to live with his elder brother Stephen Jenner, who was also a clergyman. Stephen had a great influence on his younger brother. Edward was sent to the best preparatory schools, such as Cirencester, and found country life quite pleasant. He was a healthy child without a care in the world until the reality of the deadly virus called smallpox came into the picture. Society in Europe was indeed at an unhealthier state than a century before, and doctors were helpless against smallpox. Medical records were not kept because doctors felt helpless against the disease. The only help against smallpox was to get injected with a mild case and hope it worked. There was never an exact science to that method. In fact, it rarely worked. People who received the inoculation often suffered more than if they caught the disease naturally, and children with smallpox were locked up and kept away from others. Although the risk was high, Stephen and his new wife Eleanor thought the inoculation was the best bet for Edward. Edward was soon inoculated by his well-trusted family doctor, and he suffered greatly from the experience. The once healthy boy turned into a very sickly one, and he never forgot his terrible experience. That was the main underlying reason why he never gave up looking for a cure for smallpox. In the January of 1763, Edward moved in with Daniel Ludlow and became his apprentice. Edward watched Dr. Ludlow examine his patients all day long, and Dr. Ludlow’s speed and kindness to everyone amazed him. Edward learned more in his time with Dr. Ludlow than he had his whole life. Dr. Ludlow not only taught Edward personally, but he also let Edward use his huge personal library that contained some of the best medical books available. Edward learned how to recognize early signs of typhus and smallpox. He also heard an old-wives tale that people who caught cowpox, a mild rash that afflicted the udders of cows and the hands of milkmaids, couldn’t catch smallpox. Edward was excited by this idea, but commonsense kept him from investigating this theory further. Although the old-wives tale seemed foolish, Dr. Ludlow thought Edward’s curiosity was the sign of a good upcoming doctor. Edward soon became one of Dr. Ludlow’s finest students, and by his eighteenth birthday he was made one of Dr. Ludlow’s official assistants. He was no longer referred to as “Master Edward”. He became “Mr. Jenner” and could treat patients on his own, but there was still much learning to be done. In 1773 Dr. Jenner started his own surgical practice in his hometown, but he found himself depressed because it was unsuccessful during its first years. He struggled to build up his patients, but people were reluctant to go to such a young doctor. The only illnesses he treated were colds and easily cured rashes. Dr. Jenner’s failing business wasn’t the only reason why he was depressed. In 1788 he fell desperately in love with a beautiful young woman and spent many hours writing beautiful poems to her, but she never gave him love in return. Edward once wrote:

I am jaded to the death, my dear Gardener, by constant fatigue.
That of the body I must endure, but for how long shall I be able to bear that if the mind I know not.
Still the same dead weight hangs over my heart.
Would it to God it would drag it from this unhappy mansion!
I see the end of this silly dream of life.

It was unknown whether or not Dr. Jenner was suicidal or just depressed. He avoided everyone that wasn’t a patient, but his life began to turn around when he met Catherine Kingston. They fell in love instantly and married that same December. In 1789 they were blessed with Edward jr., and Dr. Jenner loved his new family very much. He was finally happy, and his business began to thrive. Dr. Jenner’s life continued to move at a normal pace, and he never wanted any more until a local milkmaid came into his office. While inspecting her he noticed her beautiful and clear complexion. He asked her if she ever had smallpox, and if she was ever exposed to smallpox. She simply said, “I can’t take smallpox, because I’ve already had cowpox.” That statement brought back many bad memories for Dr. Jenner. He remembered his terrible inoculation as a child, which he firmly believed was a mistake. Dr. Jenner wondered if cowpox could really prevent smallpox, and in 1782 he told his best friend, Edward Gardener, that he believed cowpox could really cure smallpox. Dr. Jenner began a long and exhaustive study of hundreds of cows and milkers. It was well known that some people did catch smallpox even though they had had cowpox, but Dr. Jenner wondered if they really had cowpox. During his investigation Dr. Jenner discovered that there were “true cowpox” and “spurious cowpox”, but only “true” cases could prevent smallpox. Dr. Jenner found his thesis, and then he had to prove it. He had to inject someone with the common cowpox disease, which rarely left scars and never caused death, and then inject that person with smallpox. That was not only unethical, but it was also illegal. Dr. Jenner came to the conclusion that he would risk his career and reputation to possibly change the world, so on May 14, 1795 Dr. Jenner injected a young boy named James Phipps with cowpox from the hand of Sara Nelmes, a local milkmaid. Eight weeks later, Dr. Jenner injected James with the smallpox virus. The wait was long and stressful, but after a fourteen-day incubation period the experiment proved to be successful. Dr. Jenner later coined the word vaccination from “vacca” the Latin word for cow, but he didn’t publish his results until he successfully cured twenty-three cases. His first book was An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccine, and it was widely successful. Soon the whole world was vaccinating, and Dr. Jenner personally injected many famous and important people such as Napoleon’s troops and the English royal family. In only a few years there were virtually no deaths from smallpox, the same deadly disease that killed Louis XV and scarred George Washington. Even after Dr. Jenner became famous, he never asked for any rewards or handouts. He modestly watched death rates drop from 2,018 per year to 622 only a year after he discovered the lifesaving vaccination. He received 30,000 pounds from the British Parliament and was made the director of The National Vaccine Establishment, but he spent all the money on vaccinating the poor people of Gloucestshire for free. When asked to leave his home for a high-paying job in London, Dr. Jenner was quoted as saying: “My fortune is sufficient to gratify my wishes. And what is fame? A gilded butt? Forever pierced with arrows of malignancy.” Edward continued to live a modest and happy life until his death on January 24, 1823.

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