Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Edward Jenner and Smallpox

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Despite all of the controversy around vaccinations, vaccines have been around for nearly 200 years and are known to have saved millions of lives by preventing a person from infectious diseases through inoculation. The world’s first vaccine, the vaccination for smallpox was developed in 1796 by Edward Jenner, a doctor from England. Smallpox, which dates back to 1350 B. C. , is an infectious and contagious disease that plagued much of Europe and North American colonies during the 17th and 18th century. Smallpox claimed more than million deaths in Europe and Mexico before development of the vaccination.

Dr. Jenner’s scientific research and observations led to the eradication of smallpox in 1979. The purpose of this paper is to examine one of the greatest achievements in public health, the smallpox vaccination and the man responsible for it, Dr. Edward Jenner. This paper will also focus on the effects that the smallpox vaccination has had on public and community health and how the process of immunization from infectious diseases has saved millions of lives today. What is Smallpox Smallpox is an infectious and contagious disease, which is caused by the variola virus.

The virus, which has two forms, variola major and variola minor, was referred to as the speckled monster because of red, pustule, raised lesions that appeared on a person’s skin. Aside from the skin lesions, smallpox is characterized by typical flu symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches, malaise, and headache. Smallpox is an airborne transmitted infection, which multiplies itself in the lymph nodes while moving from cell to cell. A person is said to be contagious until the last lesion scab falls off. Whereas a cure for smallpox does not exist, the only form of prevention is vaccination (Barquet & Domingo, 1997).

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Edward Jenner and His Developments Edward Jenner, who was born on May 17, 1749 in England, developed an interest in science and nature during his early years. He worked as an apprentice under George Harwicke, in which he developed the interest in cowpox. Jenner went to London at the age of 21 to become a student of John Hunter, the most prestigious surgeon in England, Here, Jenner learned that if a person had cowpox he or she could not contract smallpox (Stern, 2005). Through Jenner’s apprenticeship with Hunter, he began learning surgical techniques and the use of scientific methods and observation.

After publishing several scientific studies and learning through observations, Jenner's interest in smallpox grew and it was at this point in which he developed his hypothesis; “Cowpox protected a person from the human disease smallpox” (Barquet & Domingo, 1997, p. 639). Developing the Smallpox Vaccine Sparked by the interest in his hypothesis and the overwhelming plague of smallpox, Jenner decided to perform an experiment to test his hypothesis. Jenner came into contact with Sarah Nelms, a dairymaid who had contracted cowpox through an infected cow.

To test his hypothesis, “Jenner extracted fluid from the pustules on Nelm’s hand and used that same fluid to inoculate an 8-year-old boy through two inch incisions on the boy’s arm” (Barquet & Domingo, 1997, p. 639). A few weeks later, Jenner injected fluid from a smallpox lesion into the arm of the same boy. This is known as variolation. The variolation did not produce a reaction and Jenner confirmed that the boy was protected against smallpox. As a result of Jenner’s studies, research, and observations, the smallpox vaccine was developed (Stefan, 2005).

The Effect of the Smallpox Vaccine on Public and Community Health Upon the publication of Jenner’s inquiry, skepticism arose as Jenner began a nationwide survey to support his findings. Other physicians began vaccinating through Jenner’s method and the theory was confirmed. Those who were previously infected with cowpox and received variolation did not find themselves stricken by smallpox. The vaccination era had begun as news of the inquiry spread to the United States where the method was tried and confirmed once again by Benjamin Waterhouse, a Harvard Medical School professor (Barquet & Domingo, 1997).

According to Barquet and Domingo (2005), “President Thomas Jefferson had 18 members of his family vaccinated and supported the theory that the vaccine preserves individuals from smallpox” (p. 640). President Jefferson later appointed Waterhouse as the “vaccine agent in the National Vaccine Institute, an organization to establish vaccination in the United States” (Barquet & Domingo, 1997, p. 640). Public and Community Health Today Several years after Jenner’s discovery, scientists had begun to develop new vaccines.

Protesting began as antivaccinationists believed that vaccinating violated a person’s privacy. In 1905, the United States Supreme court ruled that “The need to protect the public health through compulsory smallpox vaccination outweighed the individual’s right to privacy” (Stern & Markel, 2005, p. 617). The World Health Organization (WHO) certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. As other vaccinations emerged, such as vaccines for polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and rubella, people commonly worried about the safety and efficacy of these vaccinations.

Today, many parents are under the impression that autism is linked to a preservative called thimerosal, which was used in many vaccinations such as DTP and Hepatitis B vaccines. Upon scientific studies, no connection was found. However, in 1999 the United States Food and Drug Administration stopped licensing vaccines that contained thimerosal (Stern & Markel, 2005). Conclusion The development of the smallpox vaccine and other immunizations are considered to be one of the greatest achievements in public health.

Disease prevention is a major necessity of public and community health. Through extensive research, scientific studies, and observation, Edward Jenner paved the way for the evolution of public health. To date, vaccinations have saved millions of lives by protecting people against polio, diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, and smallpox. Although many people are skeptical about the safety and efficacy of immunizations, choosing not to be immunized puts not only the individual at risk but also other people at risk of contracting an infectious disease.

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