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Jenner, Edward

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Edward Jenner

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Edward Jenner - Smallpox:
Jenner discovered that inoculation with cowpox prevented people from getting smallpox. His studies convinced the population to begin inoculation around 1800. Sweden has records of smallpox deaths in the decades leading up to 1800. They averaged 6052 / million population.  In the decades following 1800, smallpox deaths averaged about 420 / million population.  The difference is 5632 which can be attributed to Jenner’s discovery. 

There is good evidence that other countries in Europe and America used Jenner’s inoculation as well. (Other countries worldwide also used Jenner’s inoculation, but because we lack data on those, we leave them out). We are assuming that inoculation remained roughly constant throughout Europe and America.  So, for 70 years, until 1874, 5632 lives were saved per million population per year.  The population of Europe and America combined during this time period averaged around 225 million.  This means 88,704,000 lives were saved during that time period.

This number held fairly steady until 1874, when a law was passed requiring mandatory inoculation.  After this, there was a drop in smallpox deaths to 13 / million population.  This equals 6039 lives saved/million population due to inoculation each year.  6039/year times 90 years until smallpox was eradicated beginning in the 1960s equals 543,510 lives saved per million population.  The population of Europe during this time was roughly 470 million people.  America’s population during that time period was roughly 115 million.  So, the average population for Europe and America during that time period was about 585 million.  Multiplying the millions of people times the lives saved (585 x 543,510) equals 317,953,350 lives saved.

Therefore, adding the lives saved during the 70 years from early 1800 to the mid 1870s and the 90 years from 1874 to 1964 (88,704,000 and 317,953,350) means Jenner’s vaccine saved at least 406,657,350 lives. Because we know the numbers we used are not exact, we conservatively round this number to 406 million lives saved before the eradication effort began. The eradication effort, using a derivative of Jenner’s cowpox inoculation as a vaccine, saved an additional 122 million lives. Thus Jenner has saved more than 528 million lives.  What an astonishing number!

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Edward Jenner
(May 17, 1749 - January 26, 1823)
Born in England
Year of Discovery: 1796


Discovered the Smallpox Vaccine - The Very First Vaccine

Edward Jenner was an English country doctor in the late 1700s.  In his practice, smallpox was one of the most common and worst problems he encountered.  Smallpox at that time was greatly feared and was a major killer of the young.  Jenner used keen observation skills and a lot of daring that wouldn’t be possible today to pave the way for all vaccinations.

In the farm community where Jenner worked, a large majority of the farmers were cattle farmers. In 1788, an epidemic hit the small town of Gloucestershire where he practiced medicine and he noticed that the cattle farmers were not the ones dying from smallpox.  The only treatment available at the time was to inoculate healthy people with the liquid from the pustules of people with mild cases of the disease.  This worked sometimes, but often had fatal results.  Jenner theorized that cowpox (a much milder but similar disease to smallpox) was somehow protecting the farmers.  In 1796 he had the opportunity to prove his theory correct.  A young milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes came to see him about sores she had developed on her hands.  He identified them as cowpox.  He carefully extracted some liquid from the sores and set about proving that cowpox could protect against smallpox.  His method would be illegal today but he bravely or foolishly (depending on your perspective) persevered.  He approached a local farmer and asked if he could inoculate his son, James Phipps, with the cowpox.  He explained that if he was correct, his son would never catch smallpox.  Given the fear that surrounded smallpox, the farmer agreed.  So, Dr. Jenner made two small cuts on the boy’s arm and poured in the cowpox and bandaged the arm.  Soon, the boy was ill with cowpox, but not terribly ill and he made a complete recovery.  Then Dr. Jenner really made a rash and dangerous move.  He repeated his prior experiment but this time he used liquid he had extracted from a patient with a mild case of smallpox.   If his theory was correct, the boy would not get sick, if he was wrong the patient could die and he would be a murderer.  Everyone was thrilled when the boy did not get smallpox and Jenner had proved his theory.

The remarkable thing about Jenner’s discovery of vaccination, is that it came before people knew that viruses existed, or much about the immune system. He used his observation of case studies to fit the puzzle pieces together and start a truly lifesaving procedure.  His idea was met with widespread skepticism but he persisted in spite of the resistance he met. There was even a cartoon drawn making fun of his theory showing people developing cow parts after vaccination.



Introduction by Martha Pat Kinney


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Similar Scientists
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

Edward Jenner Museum website: compilation of biographies:

Wikipedia entry:

'The Cow Pock or the wonderful effect of the new inoculation '. From an etching by James Gillray (1757-1815), illustrating some of the ridiculous ideas being circulated by opponents of Jenner's work.
--Photo, Wellcome Historical Museum.

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Smallpox Vaccine
Bill Foege
Devised the ingenuous strategy
to eradicate smallpox.
Aaron Ismach
Developed the Jet Injector, capable of vaccinating 1,000 people per hour.
Benjamin Rubin
Created the bifurcated needle, a simple device making worldwide vaccination possible.
Leslie Collier
Perfected the freeze-drying method of producing the vaccine, making mass vaccination possible.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist



Similar Scientists

Explore these other scientists who have something significant in common with this science hero.
Science Heroes of the 19th Century

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Robert Koch

Koch was an ingenious innovator

Isolated the bacterium that causes tuberculosis

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Paul Ehrlich

Developed the commercial serum therapy against diphtheria

Ehrlich established exacting standards for measuring the content of antitoxins. This critical process allowed for the mass production of standardized serums against diphtheria and tetanus.

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Edward Jenner

Did earliest work on the smallpox vaccine

Jenner's early efforts proved that cowpox virus (vaccinia) could provide immunity to the smallpox virus. This discovery gave birth to the concept of vaccination.

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Joseph Lister

Lister ushered in the era of sterile surgical practices

Lister, the "Father of Modern Surgery," developed the antiseptic surgical technique, ushering in the era of sterile surgical practices.

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Louis Pasteur

Pasteur was responsible for several major scientific discoveries

Pasteur was a multi-faceted scientific genius who proved germ theory, and was the founder of vaccination, microbiology, and pasteurization.

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John Snow

developed the first method of mapping the spread of epidemics

Snow, widely known as the "Father of Epidemiology," developed the first method of mapping the spread of epidemics. He also was the first to calculate precise doses of anesthesia.

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Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist

Morris, S. Cripwell. Edward Jenner (Pioneers of Science). Franklin Watts 1992.

Marrin, Albert. Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vacci: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vaccine. (Ages 9-12) Dutton Juvenile, 2002.


Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science