Edward Jenner

Father of Immunology (1749-1823)

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Edward Jenner's most significant contribution to medicine was the development of the smallpox vaccination. Smallpox is an infectious disease that may result in disfigurement, blindness, and death.

Research Summary

Jenner was an English physician born in 1749. His involvement with smallpox began when he heard a common story among farmers that if a person contracted a relatively mild and harmless disease of cattle called cowpox, immunity to cowpox would result. Jenner decided to make further observations and conduct experiments. He continued these experiments in the village of Berkeley in Gloucestershire for many years until he was fully convinced that cowpox did, in fact, confer immunity to smallpox. On May 13, 1796, he vaccinated a young boy with cowpox material taken from a pustule on the hand of a dairymaid who had contracted the disease from a cow. The boy suffered the usual mild symptoms of cowpox and quickly recovered. A few weeks later, the boy was inoculated with smallpox matter and suffered no ill effects.

In June of 1798, Jenner published his findings. Reception to Jenner's ideas was a little slow, but official recognition came from the British government in 1800. For the rest of his life, Jenner worked consistently for the establishment of vaccination.

Interesting Facts

Jenner laid the groundwork for immunology; his contributions to medical history went beyond just the smallpox vaccination. His work would be used to develop vaccinations against many diseases through the centuries after his death. He has had many buildings, monuments, libraries, and schools named after him. His home in England was established as a museum, providing a glimpse into the physician's work and life.