Needless to say, there was a time when vaccination wasn’t developed, and these diseases used to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of people every year.
“In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs.”
Edward Jenner is well known around the world for his innovative contribution to immunization and the eradication of smallpox once and for all. His work is widely regarded as the foundation of immunology—despite the fact that he was neither the first to suggest that infection with ‘cowpox’ resulted in the development of person-specific immunity to smallpox, nor was he the first to attempt cowpox inoculation for this purpose.
The origin of smallpox, though lost in prehistory, is believed to be recorded as long ago as 10,000 BC. Its references and proofs go all the way back to 1122 BC in China, 108 AD in Rome (during the early stages of the decline of the Roman Empire), 1570-1085 BC in Egypt and to the times of the Sanskrit scriptures in India among other countries.
Among the countless victims to the disease – associated with names such as the speckled monster disease and the mark on the skin disease – the plague of Antonine, accounting for the deaths of almost 7 million people in the 108 AD Rome, 400,000 annual deaths in the 18th Century Europe and infant fatalities reaching up to a rate of 80% in London and 98% in Berlin in the late 1800’s are the most notable tragedies.
The main treatment developed was inoculating young kids with smallpox so they would develop immunity. It became popular, but was dangerous.
In 1757, an 8-year-old boy was inoculated with smallpox in Gloucester, England. The procedure was effective as the boy developed a mild case of smallpox, subsequently being immune to the disease. His name was Edward Jenner.
He would grow up to be ‘The ultimate cure’ for the disease, after struggling at every step from publishing his small booklet titled ‘An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, a disease discovered in some of the western counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire and Known by the Name of Cowpox , proposing his theory that the cure for smallpox can be developed using his work with the cowpox (‘Cow’ in Latin, the whole word meaning Vaccinia) and curing it, getting resources and volunteers for the testing of the vaccine, primarily from 1795 to 1800.
So he took a bold decision, one that would be criticized and even leave him and his research in financial crisis.
Jenner conducted a nationwide survey in search of ‘proof of resistance’ to smallpox among persons who had cowpox. The results of this survey confirmed his theory about the cure. And despite errors, many controversies, some hiccups and chicanery, the use of his vaccination spread rapidly in England, and by the year 1800, it had also reached most European countries.
It was later discovered that revaccination is necessary, and as such, some changes were made in the delivery methods to the public.
Gradually, Vaccination replaced the other painful and less effective methods like variolation.
A global campaign was begun under the guardianship of the World Health Organization in 1967 that finally succeeded in the eradication of smallpox in 1977.
“The world and all its people have won freedom from smallpox, which was the most devastating disease sweeping in epidemic form through many countries since earliest times, leaving death, blindness and disfigurement in its wake”
–World Health Assembly (official announcement), May 8th, 1980