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COVID-19 May Permanently Shutter Museum Devoted to Vaccination Pioneer

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tags: medical history, historic house, Edward Jenner



In the late 1790s in Berkeley, England, children lined up on Sundays to get scratched by a doctor. The kids were among the earliest patients ever to be given a small bit of cowpox as a way to protect them against the deadly virus known as smallpox, which killed 80 percent of the kids it infected in London at the time and three out of every 10 people.

Some weeks, the queue on Edward Jenner’s property in southwestern England grew so long that it snaked across the one-acre property’s sprawling lawn, ending at the entrance of a small thatched hut next to the vinery. Originally built as a reading cottage, the structure had been transformed it into what Jenner dubbed the Temple of Vaccinia, the site of one of Britain’s first public health services.

Jenner, a trained local doctor, rose to fame for identifying a novel way to prevent smallpox’s spread. Milkmaids at the time often got cowpox when blisters on the cow’s utters oozed onto their hands. The story goes that when Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who worked for Jenner, reportedly contracted cowpox, Jenner took puss from blisters and scratched it onto the arm of an 8-year-old boy named James Phipps, the son of Jenner’s gardener. After a short and mild illness, Phipps recovered and proved immune to smallpox. Jenner coined the term vaccination, after the Latin root for “from the cow.”

A friend told Jenner that selling his vaccine could make him rich, but wealth wasn’t what Jenner was looking for, says Gareth Williams, author of Angel of Death, a book about smallpox. Instead, Jenner self-published his discoveries in 1798, documenting evidence of vaccination’s success for the first time.

Read entire article at Smithsonian Magazine

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