May 14, 1796 — English country doctor Edward Jenner administered the first inoculation against smallpox today in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. The patient was an 8-year-old boy, who was the son of Jenner’s gardener.
Jenner successfully tested his hypothesis on 23 additional subjects.
Jenner’s continuing work on vaccination prevented him from continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament, and was granted £10,000 in 1802 for his work on vaccination.
In 1807, he was granted another £20,000 after the Royal College of Physicians had confirmed the widespread efficacy of vaccination.
The origin of smallpox as a natural disease is lost in prehistory, according to the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
It is believed to have appeared around 10,000 bc, at the time of the first agricultural settlements in northeastern Africa. It seems plausible that it spread from there to India by means of ancient Egyptian merchants. The earliest evidence of skin lesions resembling those of smallpox is found on faces of mummies from the time of the 18th and 20th Egyptian Dynasties (1570–1085 bc). The mummified head of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses V (died 1156 bc) bears evidence of the disease. At the same time, smallpox has been reported in ancient Asian cultures: smallpox was described as early as 1122 bc in China and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts of India.
Smallpox was introduced to Europe sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries, and was frequently epidemic during the Middle Ages. The disease greatly affected the development of Western civilization. The first stages of the decline of the Roman Empire (ad 108) coincided with a large-scale epidemic: the plague of Antonine, which accounted for the deaths of almost 7 million people. The Arab expansion, the Crusades, and the discovery of the West Indies all contributed to the spread of the disease.
Words of Wisdom
The doctor made a few scratches on one of James' arms and rubbed into them some material from one of the pocks on Sarah's hand. A few days later, James became mildly ill with cowpox, but was well again a week later. So Jenner knew that cowpox could pass from person to person as well as from cow to person.
The next step was to test whether the cowpox would now protect James from smallpox. On July 1, Jenner variolated the boy. As Jenner anticipated, and undoubtedly to his great relief, James did not develop smallpox on this occasion nor on the many subsequent occasions when his immunity was tested again.