On May 17 1749, Edward Anthony was born into the Jenner family within a small, rural section of Dorsetshire, England. He was the eighth of what would be nine children; a normal family size during the 1700’s. Edward’s father was happily employed as the vicar of Dorsetshire, which resulted in a strong educational foundation for Edward’s siblings; Edward was only 5 years old when his parents both died. Edward’s oldest brother took the responsibility of raising the family and passing the education his father gave him unto the younger children.
That education became his ticket for recognition among several highly respected local physicians and surgeons. At the age of 13, Edward started his training among medical professionals in South Gloucestershire and was chosen to be the apprentice to Daniel Ludlow (a surgeon) for eight years. In 1770 just after having completed his apprenticeship with Ludlow, Edward started to practice at St. George’s Hospital in London, England under the surgeon John Hunter. He was barely 21 years old.
(SWB, 2004) Three years later Edward returned to his home to become one of the most successful physicians and surgeons practicing in Dorsetshire. He decided along with several other providers in the area to form a medical society in Rodborough, Gloucestershire in order to read papers on medical subjects while sharing experiences, findings, and theories. Later, this group would be called the Gloucestershire Medical Society or the Fleece Medical Society because they frequently met within the Fleece Inn, Rodborough.
(Jenner, 1909-14) Edward had become accustomed to the fatalities that Smallpox often claimed, since the disease had been present far longer than he had been alive. The idea of injecting healthy subjects with smallpox scabs or even the pus from the sores either by inhaling the scabs or spreading the pus into open wounds was present centuries before Jenner’s proclamation of a vaccine. The news of such an absurd practice didn’t reach England until well into the eighteenth century, and with it came the stories of the suffering that those subjects who volunteered for the act encountered.
(Jenner, 1909-14) (Empson, 1996) Because he was so young, Edward found it hard to be taken seriously by his peers and co-workers. He constantly preached about his beliefs in using the cowpox disease (a disease similar to smallpox, only much milder) to prevent smallpox since he had never encountered anyone who had ever experienced both. He tried on several occasions to have someone, anyone, listen to his theory regarding the immunity however he was shot down at every attempt.
He was told by his fellow practitioners that they had actually seen several patients who had come down with cowpox, only to also be stricken with smallpox months later. On May 14, 1796, Edward made a crucial decision that very easily could have branded him a killer rather than the hero he is acknowledged as today. He removed the fluid of a cowpox sore from a young woman named Sarah Nelmes, a dairymaid on a nearby farm, and spread the fluid directly into two small incisions on the arm of a healthy 8 year old boy from another nearby home named James Phipps.
The child soon came down with cowpox, yet six weeks later Edward repeated the act; this time injecting two fresh incisions with the pus from smallpox. James Phipps never contracted the fatal disease, therefore proving Edward’s theory and awarding him the title “Father of Immunology” (Proctor & Young-Adams, 2011) Edward named his process of prevention vaccination from the Latin word vacca meaning “cow”. His findings soon traveled throughout Europe and the United States.
He was honored and respected though he would still be ridiculed and harassed by some who disapproved of his technique. Former colleagues who had been elected into the College of Physicians in London refused to allow him entry until he passed an exam on the theories of Galen and Hippocrates. Edward declined stating that his research, effort, and positive results of the prevention of smallpox should have qualified him for election. He has never been elected for entry into the college. (Proctor & Young-Adams, 2011) (Empson, 1996).
References Empson, J. (1996, Sep). Little honoured in his own country: statues in recognition of Edward Jenner MD FRS. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 514-580. Jenner, E. (1909-14). The Three Original Publications On Vaccination Against Smallpox (4 ed. , Vol. 38). (C. W. Eliot, Ed. ) New York: P. F. Collier & Son. Proctor, B. D. , & Young-Adams, P. A. (2011). Kinn’s The Medical Assistant. (S. Cole, Ed. ) St. Louis. SWB, N. (2004, August). The Life of Edward Jenner. British Journal of Infection Control, 5(4), 30-33.