Vaccination and smallpox are intricately linked. Smallpox is a severe, contagious, disfiguring, and often fatal disease that affected the human population for thousands of years. It caused 300 million deaths globally by the 20th century. Thanks to Edward Jenner, who developed the first smallpox vaccine, the disease’s spread was prevented. It led to the eradication of smallpox and gave birth to the invention of much more life-saving vaccinations.
During the early times, people have inferred that it’s rare to acquire the same infectious disease twice. Should you still get it, the next infection is typically milder than the first one.
With that, many thought what would be the result if you are to artificially expose someone to a relatively less risky version of the diseases before even getting the chance to acquire the much more lethal form of the disease. People imagined that it could help prevent them from having the deadlier version of the infection in the infection. It became the foundation of vaccination and has saved millions from several forms of fatal illnesses.
Vaccination is a medical method of using a person’s immune system to protect it from contagious diseases. A vaccine contains the virus or the microorganism in its weakened, killed, or inactive state, or toxins or proteins, from the said organism.
After the vaccine enters the body, it stimulates the immune system to create antibodies or molecules that bombards and kills the infections, seemingly how the body reacts if a person is exposed to the actual disease. Once a person has been vaccinated, he becomes immune to the disease, and the body would have enough capacity to combat the disease, leaving it unable to cause damaging effects.
While vaccines have immensely helped the human population since it was invented, less people may know how the historical events and the heroic pioneers led to its development – that all started with smallpox.
Smallpox was a crippling disease, killing 3 out of every 10 people who contracted the infection. Those who luckily survived are often marred with potentially severe scars and lifelong disfigurement. The disease is believed to have originated in Egypt or India nearly 3,000 years ago.
Truth to be told, they were earlier attempts to inoculate themselves from the devastating illness. It was reported that as early as the 16th century, Chinese people ground scabs from smallpox rashes, and either scratched it to their skin or blown them into their nostrils.
Soon enough, the technique regarded as variolation reached Europe in 1721. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English royalty, endorse the practice. However, it retaliated after around 3% of the people who followed it died. Moreover, variolation also led to the dispersion of the disease, triggering further uncontainable outbreaks.
A safer version of variolation stemmed from observations that people working in dairy farms were not hit by smallpox. English physician Edward Jenner theorized that the dairy farmers’ exposure to cowpox, which is a mild disease passed from cattle, maybe the reason behind such protection from smallpox. With that, Jenner devoted his time and done studies and experiments regarding the occurrence.
Jenner took pus from cowpox lesions of a dairy farmer and variolated a boy through a cut he incised in the kid’s arm. A few weeks later, Jenner let the boy be exposed to smallpox. Surprisingly, the boy did not catch the infection, even after numerous subsequent exposures to the disease.
Jenner continued to gather proof from many more patients by inoculating them with the cowpox virus. His theory was soon accepted and became the primary technique used to combat smallpox across the globe. It was then when the first vaccination was invented, coming from the Latin word “vacca,” meaning cow. Moreover, it serves as the birth of preventive health, vaccine therapy, and immunology.
Edward Jenner (Wikipedia)
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