Amazing Moments in Science
1796, the English physician Edward Jenner performed the world’s first vaccination. He is an example of perseverance and the scientific method but also of boldness that led people to consider him crazy 120 years ago and that would have meant a prison sentence today. However, the idea of vaccination did not derive from an “Eureka moment:” at the time, variolation (inoculation) was already implemented by rubbing powdered smallpox scabs or fluid on healthy individuals to protect them against the then terrible condition.
Sometimes variolation worked but in other cases it was lethal. Several doctors before Jenner had noticed that farmers and milkmaids developed a benign version of the condition, cowpox, and were immune to the human disease. His predecessors had even trialed inoculations with this material. Edward Jenner connected the right dots and carried out the first extensive study on the subject with an eight-year-old boy, James Philipps (the son of his gardener), as his first patient.
Relive here the journey from the first trial (unacceptable today) to the intensive world vaccination campaign that resulted in the eradication of smallpox, the deadliest infectious disease in history, in 1979.