When I was born in 1935, no-one asked my mother if she'd like me vaccinated against small-pox, they told her I had be vaccinated. Neither her permission nor my father's was required. Although she had no special medical knowledge, she, like many others, did have enough perception to realize what a killer smallpox had been and was happy to have her newborn protected against it. That general realization was sufficiently widespread and the vaccination sufficiently accepted as being effective, that the lethal disease has been wiped off the face of the earth. People showed off their small ugly vaccination scar on their upper arm with pride! When I was growing up, the countryside in Ireland was peppered with TB Sanatoria. Now there are none. Not many years later tuberculosis was preventable by vaccine or treatable and when my daughter was born no one asked her mother or me if we would like her immunized against that scourge. The same applied to numerous other serious diseases that had crippled or killed people, particularly children. Diseases like polio (infantile paralysis), diphtheria and a myriad of other diseases. Much of the population was aware of the patients who lived out their lives in an 'iron lung' to breath for them or spent their life wheel chair confined and so were relieved when their children had their vaccine even though the approval was post facto. Widespread dissemination of infectious disease has largely been avoided in recent years thanks to immunization. Unfortunately, the public as expert as they believe themselves to be are largely unaware of why they have enjoyed protection from so many potentially lethal infectious diseases. Unfortunately, many of the experts are lacking in historical perspective and fail to appreciate how much of the success of modern medicine is due to the contribution of Edward Jenner and 'The Dirty Dairymaids of Devon'.In 1796, Jenner carried out his now famous experiment on eight-year-old James Phipps. Jenner inserted pus taken from a cowpox pustule and inserted it into an incision on the boy's arm. (He'd be sued and crossed off the medical register for that today!) He was testing his theory, drawn from the folklore of the countryside, that milkmaids who suffered the mild disease of cowpox never contracted smallpox, one of the greatest killers of the period, particularly among children. Jenner subsequently proved that having been inoculated with cowpox Phipps was immune to smallpox. He submitted a paper to the Royal Society in 1797 describing his experiment, but was told that his ideas were too revolutionary and that he needed more proof. Jenner experimented on several other children, including his own 11-month-old son. In 1798, the results were finally published and Jenner coined the word vaccine from the Latin 'vacca' for cow.
Jenner was widely ridiculed. Critics, especially the clergy, claimed it was repulsive and ungodly to inoculate someone with material from a diseased animal. A satirical cartoon of 1802 showed people who had been vaccinated sprouting cow's heads. But the obvious advantages of vaccination and the protection it provided won out, and vaccination soon became widespread. Jenner became famous and now spent much of his time researching and advising on developments in his vaccine. Jenner carried out research in a number of other areas of medicine and was also keen on fossil collecting and horticulture. He died on 26 January 1823. His discoveries and their offshoots developed by others have probably saved more lives than any other medical management.
So, the anti vaccine luddites can rant and roar as much as they like: study the facts carefully and apply simple logic and the answers will usually become obvious. Meanwhile, each and every one of us should be grateful for the vaccines that have saved so many lives - and let there be no doubt about it, they did save many lives.
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