Dr. Edward Jenner: Historical Figure in Healthcare


Have you ever wondered how the smallpox vaccination was invented or why there is no longer a use for the vaccination? Dr Edward Jenner is the scientist awarded with the achievement in contributing to an immunization against smallpox, this in turn saved many lives. Dr. Edward Jenner is famous for being a medical legacy and the father of modern medicine. Edward Jenner grew up in England during the mid-18th century when smallpox was killing rapidly and spreading like wildfire due to it being an airborne illness. Jenner was an extremely gifted child and began his education in science and nature as an adolescent. He had a high interest in the smallpox disease that only elevated as he grew older. Edward Jenner quickly became the father of modern medicine due to his early childhood life, his extensive career, and discovery of the smallpox vaccination by performing an abundance of experiments. 

To begin with, the birth and early childhood of the father of medicine, Dr. Edward Jenner. Dr. Jenner was born in Berkley, Gloucestershire on May 17th, 1749, he was born to a reverend named Stephan Jenner, who was known well in their small town. By the age of five he was orphaned and sent to live with his older brother. Jenner’s interest in science and nature rapidly grew as a young child and even more so as an adult. At the young age of thirteen, Jenner began an apprenticeship to a country surgeon named Daniel Ludlow located in Sodbury. Edward Jenner worked on his apprenticeship for a total of seven years and completed the apprenticeship at the age of twenty-one and from there he travelled to London. He quickly became a student to John Hunter who was employed by St. George’s Hospital. Jenner’s teacher, John Hunter was a famous surgeon in England along with being a biologist, anatomist, and gifted in experimental science. Jenner was only a student to Hunter for two years, but during that time Jenner’s interest for science and nature only grew. Despite Jenner and Hunter having a student-teacher relationship they soon became good friends and remained that way until Hunter’s death in 1793. With Jenner’s growing interest for science and nature he began helping in classifying species that Captain Cook brought back with him (Stefan Riedel, 2005). Jenner was extremely gifted and led a highly educated life, under the circumstances of being orphaned at the age of five.  

Equally important, is the career that aided in Dr. Jenner’s life-changing discovery.  During his apprenticeship at the age of fourteen, Jenner overheard a woman stating that she could not contract smallpox disease due to already having contracted cowpox disease. This was the beginning of Jenner’s interest on the smallpox disease. After Edward Jenner finished working for John Hunter, he returned home to Berkley. There he built a medical practice, and this is where he remained until the day he died. At this time Jenner had acquired the knowledge of anatomy and general surgery, this led to Jenner and a few others forming a medical society in Gloucestershire. The sole reason for the medical society was to read papers on medical subjects, Jenner also published multiple papers on angina while working in the medical society (“Edward Jenner”, n.d). Jenner not only was skilled in medicine, but he also played the violin and wrote light verse in a musical club, in addition he also made multiple observations on the nesting habits and migration on the cuckoo bird. Throughout his career in the medical society, he also collected specimens for John Hunter. (Lester King, 2012). Throughout Edward Jenner’s career as a scientist, he gained the knowledge as well as the support and resources he needed to create the first successful vaccination against the smallpox disease. 

As a result, of Jenner’s growing interest in the smallpox disease and his background as a scientist, he had begun his journey of research. Jenner knew that the origin of smallpox was unknown before starting his research, but this did not deter him. He was determined to know if contracting cowpox disease kept patients safe from smallpox disease. Cowpox was a disease that usually milkmaids contracted due to it being a disease that comes from cows. Jenner began an experiment with an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps after a woman named Sarah Nelmes came to Jenner about a rash she had on her hand, he later diagnosed this rash as cowpox disease. Edward thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to study the cowpox properties from someone who had not yet been infected by smallpox. Edward Jenner made a few scratches on the boy’s arm and rubbed the scratches with one of the pocks from Sarah’s hand. Jenner kept an eye on the boy for the next few days and documented that the boy did in fact get sick with cowpox but became well again a week after infection. From there, Jenner drew the conclusion that cowpox could be passed from person to person. Jenner’s next step was to infect the boy with smallpox to determine whether the cowpox would protect him. Jenner infected the boy on July 1st and patiently waited for the results. The boy did not become ill with smallpox even after many attempts at infecting him with smallpox disease. Jenner completed many other experiments in addition to this one, though many surgeons and doctors did not want Edward Jenner to succeed. People were fearful to receive a vaccination that contained material from cows, and many others refused the vaccination due to religious reasons. Variolation was then prohibited in 1840 and the cowpox vaccination was made mandatory in 1853. Edward dedicated the rest of his life to supplying the vaccination to others around the world as well as discussing other matters that were related to the vaccine. (“About Edward Jenner”, 2020). Smallpox was eliminated in 1980, so there is no longer a need for the vaccination, but up until the disease was eliminated Jenner’s vaccine was still used all over the world. 

In summary, Dr. Edward Jenner became a medical legacy with the combination of his early upbringing, his rapidly growing career, and his multitude of experiments that led to him discovering the smallpox vaccination. With Edward Jenner starting his apprenticeship at thirteen, his interest in science and nature tripled. His early education and growing career combined led Jenner to have the resources he needed to begin his research on the correlation between the smallpox disease and cowpox disease. If Edward Jenner at a young age was able to make this world changing discovery, what other vaccinations could have been discovered earlier if scientists had an early start to their education? In fact, how many other diseases could be eliminated by the discovery of a vaccination? 

Works Cited

About Edward Jenner. Privacy Policy. (2020, October 1). https://www.jenner.ac.uk/about/edward-jenner. 

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Edward Jenner: Additional Information. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-Jenner/additional-info#history. 

Home. Famous Scientists. (n.d.). https://www.famousscientists.org/edward-anthony-jenner/. 

Riedel, S. (2005, January). Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination. Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/.

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