Born in the 1749, Dr. Edward Jenner was the 8th child out of a family of nine that lived in Gloucestershire. His father was a local vicar, so he was able to access a strong education from an early age. When he was young, he was inoculated for smallpox and this one event had an effect on his general health over the course of his life. He apprenticed for seven years with a surgeon in Sodbury and this is how he was able to become a surgeon.
What makes Edward Jenner unique is that his invention has been credited with saving more human lives than any other invention or any other person has been able to do throughout the entire course of human history.
What Did Edward Jenner Invent?
Smallpox is one of the deadliest diseases that humans had to deal with throughout the ages. Even though immunities would develop in the European world, it is believed that smallpox is responsible for the conquest of South America and into the Central American region that occurred. It is a difficult, debilitating disease and many who suffer from it have lifelong complications.
What Dr. Jenner noticed as he was researching this disease because of his own issues was that those who worked with cattle tended to avoid the most severe cases of smallpox. He wondered how this could be and so began to observe the habits of those who worked with cows. Jenner discovered that cowpox, a similar disease to smallpox, wouldn’t make people very sick like it did with cows and it would build immunities against smallpox.
To test his theory, he gave a young boy a cowpox inoculation and then exposed the boy to the smallpox virus. We might balk at such a method today, but the results would change the course of human history. The young boy did not get a full case of smallpox. Based on this empirical evidence, the groundwork for modern immunology was born.
Was Edward Jenner the First To Suggest This?
There were actually several doctors at the time who thought that cowpox might control smallpox in humans. Even as early as 400BC, it was known that people who got smallpox couldn’t get it again. What Jenner did was develop the process that could be proven to prevent disease from developing within the human body. He added more empirical evidence to the process, published papers privately to prove his evidence, and gave the term a name: vaccination.
The word vaccination comes from the Latin word for cowpox [vaccinia]. Once word spread of this vaccine and that it worked, it began to spread like wildfire. Jenner would provide it to anyone who requested it and once a district was fully vaccinated, doctors would pass on their extra vaccines to others who needed it.
Dr. Jenner never tried to make himself rich off of this vaccine, even though he was given many awards and worldwide recognition for his work. He vaccinated the poor for free and he changed the world.