Episode #5 of the course “Unknown Scientists Who Changed The World”
English physician and scientist Edward Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine and pioneered the field of immunology. He is regarded as “the father of immunology,” and in 2002, he was included in the BBC’s list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a country-wide vote.
Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, UK in 1749. His career in surgery started at the young age of 14, when he served as an apprentice to a local surgeon. He apprenticed under Mr. Daniel Ludlow for seven years while also attending school in London. Jenner died in 1823 after his second stroke.
Jenner returned to his home of Gloucestershire in 1772 to work as a doctor. He had a particular interest in local remedies and folklore he heard from people he met during his life. He noticed that the milkmaids who contracted the relatively harmless cowpox were immune the much more dangerous smallpox, which was killing thousands of people at the time. He first tested his theory in 1796 by injecting a child with the pus from a small pustule of cowpox. He thereby infected the child with cowpox, but he became immune to smallpox. He tested his theory on many more children over the next couple of years, including his own son.
The work of Edward Jenner has saved millions of lives around the world. Smallpox was once a deadly killer. Some have claimed that Jenner’s work has saved more lives than the work of any other human. The World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease in 1979.
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