Who discovered the smallpox vaccine?

SMALLPOX has plagued humans for millennia, with even Egyptian mummies found with evidence of a smallpox rash.

But the world was declared smallpox-free in 1980 – so how did that milestone reach, and who should we thank?

Smallpox vaccine in 1796 was the first vaccine against infectious diseases


Smallpox vaccine in 1796 was the first vaccine against infectious diseasesCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Who discovered the smallpox vaccine?

Edward Jenner was the first to create and promote the smallpox vaccine, combining ideas from medicine and farm culture.

Doctors have known for a while that a little smallpox makes people sicker and fewer people die.

They scratched material from smallpox sores into the skin of uninfected people, or let them sniff the substance up their noses, in a technique known as disfiguring.

Edward Jenner used the same idea, but with cowpox, the non-lethal disease, instead of smallpox, in his vaccine, first used in 1796.

Smallpox makes people feel a little uncomfortable with a few nodules or blisters on their hands – but smallpox kills three in ten people who contract it and leaves scars on those it doesn’t.

About four million Aztecs are thought to have died when Europeans shipped smallpox to the Americas during their exploration in the early 1500s.

And smallpox killed more than three million people worldwide in the 20th century — and that’s because vaccines are available.

Jenner’s smallpox transformation was successful and he developed a smallpox vaccine from this work.

This was followed by a huge effort to vaccinate against smallpox, and in the 1950s and 60s, there were two World Health Organization (WHO) programs to eradicate smallpox.

Three-year-old Rahima Banu was the last person infected with the naturally occurring, more fatal strain of smallpox Virola Major, in 1975 – and she survived.

Ali Maow Maalin got the Virola Minor spontaneously and also survived in 1977.

And Janet Parker was the last person to die of smallpox, at age 40, after catching it from the lab in 1978.

Who is Edward Jenner?

Edward Jenner was an English physician, born in Gloucestershire in 1749 and lived to 74 – an impressive age for his time – before his death in 1823.

Jenner was inoculated with smallpox by a mutation, and he got the idea to use smallpox from farm workers.

Many farm workers believed that people, mainly women, who contracted cowpox while milking did not get smallpox.

Jenner made her first attempt in 1796, and it was a success.

After much more experimentation, Jenner published her work in 1801.

He promoted his new method – but sometimes the cowpox samples he sent were infected with smallpox in the hospital, so some people didn’t trust his vaccine.

The last person to die of smallpox was medical photographer Janet Parker, in 1978, at the age of 40


The last person to die of smallpox was medical photographer Janet Parker, in 1978, at the age of 40Credit: Alamy

Others are just against change, and some consider it dangerous or irreligious for humans to be ‘contaminated’ with bovine-derived material.

A big step was taken when Congress banned the disease in 1840, and smallpox vaccination was made mandatory in 1853.

Jenner has been awarded countless honors, and many monuments commemorate his work in the field of vaccines.

And the cow is celebrated for its role too – because the word ‘vaccine’ is from the Latin ‘vaca’, which means cow.

Who was the first person to be immunized against smallpox?

James Phipps, the nine-year-old son of gardener Edward Jenner, was the first to be immunized against smallpox, on May 14, 1796.

Smallpox on James’s arm came from a sore on the hand of Sarah Nelmes, who contracted it from a cow named Blossom.

Jenner exposed James to smallpox several times a few months later, but it did not make James sick.

Virola virus, which causes smallpox, persists at two research centers – one in the US and one in Russia.

Having smallpox is a rather unpleasant experience that includes headache, vomiting, and fever, followed by blisters, blisters and sores, followed by pus and crusting.

If you’re lucky enough to survive, you’re usually left with a scar. Who discovered the smallpox vaccine?


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