The life and legacy of Dr Edward Jenner FRS, pioneer of vaccination
Sep 21, 2011
Known to many as "the father of immunology", Edward Jenner changed the path of world history on the 14th of May 1796 when he inoculated his gardener's 8-year-old son with cow pox, subsequently demonstrating that this induced immunity to smallpox by challenging him with smallpox infected material. This was the scientific birth of vaccination. It was the product of a long gestation but that was not the end of Jenner's endeavour. He had to battle to have his ground-breaking medical discovery recognised and implemented so that lives were saved. He was so successful that vaccination was in use world-wide in his life time and although it was almost two centuries before smallpox was finally eradicated millions of lives were saved and the principles established that led to the discovery of vaccines to other infectious diseases.
Dr Wallington describes the life and legacy of one of the most important figures in medical history focusing on the key ingredients of his success. The roots of his discovery of vaccination lay in Jenner's own experience of variolation (inoculation of smallpox to prevent latter natural infection) as a schoolboy, astute observation of patients who had caught cow pox in rural medical practice in the Gloucestershire countryside, and induction into the scientific method by John Hunter while his student at St George's Hospital. His discovery might have gone unnoticed if it had not been published and promoted and in particular adopted by people with influence. Much opposition had to be overcome and without his personal networks and belief in what could be achieved the world might have waited much longer for this simple, life saving treatment. Remarkably, Jenner's curiosity and scientific success was much broader than vaccination, bird migration, cuckoo nesting, hibernation, fossil hunting, patent medicines and ballooning to name a few. You will be meeting a polymath for whom the scientific method was the key and his drive to understand nature as he observed it around him the source of his singular success.