History : Jun-Jul 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 13 Jubilant support and poisonous opposition JENNER’S METHOD sparked a vigorous debate. Though some immediately hailed the considerable advantages vaccination would offer to humanity, others sounded the alarm on its risks, both real and imagined. The two caricatures below give a good idea of the starkly different responses elicited by Jenner’s seminal discovery. JUAN JOSÉ SÁNCHEZ ARRESEIGOR blisters seven days after they first appeared, ensuring that the illness was less virulent. Although Jenner never knew it, his emphasis on a weakened strain of cowpox would later prove the key to tackling other diseases. When a relatively benign animal equivalent of a disease did not exist, it was discovered that a vaccine could be developed using weaker, related microorganisms. Jenner himself was unable to apply such thinking, as pathogens and their workings were not understood in his lifetime. His methods, however, worked ex- tremely well and were gradually imple- mented throughout Europe. In 1803 the Royal Jennerian Society was founded in Britain, offering vaccination free of charge in a drive to tackle a disease kill- ing 80,000 Britons every year. In 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the vacci- nation of his entire army. The Spanish government launched a three-year-long philanthropic expedition to bring vacci- nation to the Spanish Empire and beyond, including the Americas, the Philippines, Macao, and China. Jenner wrote of this remarkable expedition, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.” Jenner’s Legacy Edward Jenner found himself bestowed with a wealth of titles and honors. The British Parliament awarded him £10,000 —a c olossal sum for the time—later sup- plemented with an additional £20,000. Yet, despite all the glory heaped upon him, Jenner remained a man of relative- ly modest habits. He returned to the vil- lage of Berkeley, where he continued to practice as a doctor. It was here that his wife and one of his children succumbed to another great scourge of the time, tu- berculosis. On January 25, 1823, Jenner suffered a stroke while asleep and was found dead the next morning. He was 73 years old. In 1840 the British government for- mally banned variolation and passed laws to vaccinate the entire population for free. Smallpox was being beaten, but one mystery remained—its cause. This was resolved when Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch discovered germs, and in doing so made it possible to develop vaccines against other diseases. The last known case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977. The long battle against death and disfigurement was over, thanks largely to the insight of an English country doctor. BOOKS Vaccination Against Smallpox Edward Jenner, Prometheus Books, 1996. Learn more BRIDGEMAN/ACIBRIDGEMAN/ACI Salvation for humankind In the background victims of smallpox beg for help. Jenner himself appears on the right, crowned by an angel as “preserver of the human race.” Wielding the scalpel used to carry out vaccinations, Jenner beats off the traditional doctors, who flee bearing scalpels dripping with gore. One of the scalpels has “the curse of human kind” engraved on it, and at the doctors’ feet lie the bodies of children killed by their refusal to act. A devilish discovery This 1802 caricature depicts Edward Jenner feeding small children into the fierce-looking jaws of a cow- like monster covered in pustules. Killed by Jenner’s vaccination, dozens of dead infants are hurled by a demon into a wagon. In the background five doctors opposed to vaccination descend from the Temple of Truth to join forces against what they considered a murderous practice.