Who has saved more lives than any other person in history? You’ve probably never heard of him.

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) was an English scientist who lived in the 18th century. He discovered the first vaccine, which was for the smallpox virus. This disease was widespread at that time and killed many people. Those who were infected but survived were often left badly scarred.

Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had caught the cowpox virus did not normally then catch smallpox. Cowpox was very similar to smallpox but less contagious.

He collected pus from the cowpox blisters on a milkmaid’s hands and purposefully infected a small boy. The boy was taken ill for a short while, but was then resistant to any subsequent infections of the cowpox and smallpox viruses. He tested this by infecting the boy with smallpox. No illness occurred. Jenner was therefore the first person to vaccinate someone against infection.

His discovery has subsequently led to the saving of countless millions of lives. I came across his story again recently when I was rewatching “Andrew Marr’s History Of The World” on BBC television.

You can read more about Edward Jenner here.


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