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Edward Jenner

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Edward JennerWhat do we know about Jenner?

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Contribution to medicine

Jenner developed a vaccination against smallpox, one of the biggest killers of the 18th century. As a country doctor he had observed that milkmaids who had had cowpox never got smallpox. He took this theory and in 1796 experimented by giving a young boy first cowpox and then smallpox. He never developed smallpox, proving his theory correct.

Many doctors opposed his work as they made money from performing inoculations (giving a small dose of weaker strain of smallpox to inoculate them against the ‘full-blown’ disease). Also, many people were scared of this new idea and some even feared they would turn into cows.

Jenner had the support of the Government and received £10,000 in 1802 and a further £20,000 in 1806. In 1853 vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory for all infants. Jenner did not know how vaccination worked, but was able to conclusively prove that it did.

Factors involved in his work


Jenner had great faith in his ability and beliefs and was willing to risk the life of others (including his own baby son) in conducting experiments to prove that it worked.


Following the evidence that vaccination worked provided by Jenner the Government supported vaccination by first granting Jenner money and then making vaccination compulsory despite opposition. This was in a time when the Government rarely interfered in people’s lives, which shows how important they thought this break through was.

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