As the world awaits with bated breath for a sign of a vaccine that will give hope to the human race against COVID-19, we must spare a moment to think of remarkable work that scientists of the yesteryears have put in to eradicate diseases and epidemics.
Smallpox was a fatal disease that was known for millennia before a vaccine was found. Traces and records of it were found in ancient Indian and Chinese scriptures, as well as Egyption mummies. Having a fatality rate of almost 60%, patients infected were left with lifelong side effects such as permanent blindness and indelible scars. It was considered incurable, until 224 years ago, the very first smallpox vaccine was administered by Edward Jenner-an English doctor- to an 8 year old boy named James Phipps. Jenner was the first to analyse the effects of “the Cowpox vaccination”, and its role in curing smallpox.
Taking inspiration from the folklore suggesting that “milkmaids who suffered from cowpox were never affected by the smallpox”, Edward Jenner continued to delve deeper into what was initially believed to be a myth. It was not long before he created a vaccine that administered a small dose of the cowpox to fight the far more dangerous smallpox virus, which was the cause of a widespread epidemic at the time.
While his ideas were first mocked around England for its forwardness, the positive effects of the vaccine soon became evident as the demand for it massively grew around England. Edward Jenner rose to success, as the honor of coining the scientific term for his massive discovery was bestowed upon him. The word vaccine, that we use so frequently today was coined by Edward Jenner, and funnily enough, is derived from the Latin word “Vacca” meaning cow.