Edward Jenner and the Discovery of Vaccination

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Mortality from smallpox

This table, from the Encyclopedia Metropolitana (London 1844), shows the differing death rates from smallpox on sufferers of different ages. Even after the initial impact of Jenner's discovery, much the greatest impact of the disease was on children under one year old.


Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689-1762
Letters from the Levant, during the Embassy to Constantinople 1716-1718
London: Joseph Rickerby, 1838.

The Turkish practice of inoculation with smallpox itself was, if not first introduced, certainly popularized in high society in Britain by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, poet, friend of Pope and other writers, and wife of the British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte. Lady Mary had her own child inoculated, and the Hanoverian Royal family (whose ascent to the throne had earlier been facilitated by the smallpox deaths of more immediate heirs) ensured its succession by inoculating two of the Princess of Wales's children, in 1723. The numbers inoculated remained small, however, and medical effort through the eighteenth century was concentrated on reducing the risks and side-effects of the inoculation process.


William Douglass, "M.D.," 1691-1752
"A digression concerning the small-pox," in A summary, historical and political, of the first planting, progressive improvements, and present state of the British settlements in North-America
Boston: printed; London: reprinted for R. Baldwin, 1775 (vol. II, 408). 2 volumes.
Gift of Dr. Robert M. Gibbes to South Carolina College.

Douglass documents from personal experience some of the early experiments in England and in America with the Turkish ("Circassian") method of inoculation against small-pox. Douglass, a Scotsman and probably an Edinburgh graduate, is best known as the first physician to describe scarlet-fever. He settled in Boston in 1718, and during the small-pox epidemic there in 1721 became involved in controversy with "a credulous vain Preacher, Mather Jr.," to whom Douglass had leant the original description of inoculation from the Philosophical Transactions and whom he here castigates as trying to steal from Douglass himself "the imaginary honour" for this "new fangled notion." This account dates from 1751.


John Baron, M.D., 1786-1822
The Life of Edward Jenner, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S.
London: Henry Colburn, 1838. 2 volumes.

While still an apothecary's apprentice in the late 1760s, Jenner had been intrigued by possible relationships between smallpox, cowpox, and swinepox. At the time, he was ridiculed. By 1780, however, he returned to the idea, as evidenced in the conversation recorded here, and in 1789 he experimented by inoculating his own son, then aged one-and-a-half, with the swine pox, followed by conventional smallpox inoculation.


Jenner's handwritten draft of the first vaccination

The original manuscript of Jenner's Inquiry is in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons. Reproduced from W. R. Le Fanu,A Bio-bibliography of Edward Jenner, plate IV

 

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