Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner

Angus Henry McInnes Hamilton

Writer’s Workshop F

Imagine a world without vaccines, a world were lots of children didn’t make it past 10 because of smallpox, polio, and measles; that’s what the world might be like without Edward Jenner. Edward Jenner was an English doctor in Berkeley and created a vaccine for smallpox by giving people cowpox. Jenner is a change maker because in inventing the smallpox vaccine, he caused innovations in creating vaccines for other diseases, and in the process saved countless lives.

Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, England, on May 17, 1749. Jenner was a country child, and both his father (who died when he was five) and his older brother were clergymen. When his parents died, he was brought up by his brother. He was sent to a grammar school at the age of thirteen and was apprenticed to a nearby surgeon. By the age of 21, he finished his apprenticeship and traveled to London to study medicine, where he worked as a pupil with more experienced doctors. At the age of 23, he moved back to Berkeley to set up a practice. While in Berkeley he joined a violin club, wrote medical papers, wrote light verse, and he observed birds and other wild animals in the area. He lead a simple life in Berkeley, and he got married in 1788. 10 years later,After he had created the vaccine and it had eradicated smallpox, Parliament gave him £10,000 in 1802, and £20,000 in 1806. In 1815 his wife died of TB and he retired from the public eye.

Jenner was able to create the vaccine because he kept an open mind and knew when inspiration strikes you have to follow it. While he was living in Berkeley he noticed that the milkmaids who contracted cowpox—a mild disease contracted from cows, that usually manifests as a rash on the hand—could not get smallpox. Being a man of science, he knew there was a connection, so he decided to investigate further. When a milkmaid came to his practice complaining about a rash on her hand, he asked her if any of her cows had cowpox, and she said that one of them did. So he took some of the pus from the cow to use in experiments. His theory was that if he enoculated someone with cowpox they wouldn’t get smallpox, so he tested it on James Philip, the son of his gardener. The experiment worked and James Philip was immune to smallpox.

His vaccine turned a disease that was thought to be incurable into something people only read about in history books. In his day smallpox killed over 400,000 people per year, and the only way of preventing it was variolation—which was just giving a healthy person smallpox and hoping they survive. Once he completed the vaccine and proved to his colleagues that it worked, he spread the vaccine throughout England and western Europe. Soon thereafter, smallpox was no longer so feared since almost everyone was protected against it.

Although the vaccine had phenomenal effects at the time, it had even greater effects later on, when vaccines for other diseases were made from Jenner’s blueprint. While they were all made differently, they all had the same idea behind them. That idea was to expose the patient to something similar enough to the disease so that the body becomes immune to it, but weak enough so it doesn’t hurt them. For instance, in 1950 the polio vaccine was created, and stopped a devastating disease dead in its tracks. Other vaccine discoveries include diphtheria, cholera, typhoid, tetanus, pertussis, influenza, yellow fever, measles, rubella, mumps, and pneumococcal pneumonia.

Even though at the time people thought Jenner’s invention would only work on smallpox, it evolved into an entire category of medicine. He is a change maker because he was ready to follow his inspiration, because he cured a disease that was thought to be incurable, and because he sought no personal gain in creating the vaccine. Jenner is a change maker not only because he changed the world for the better, but because he didn’t do it for personal gain, he just wanted to help humanity.


“About Edward Jenner.” The Jenner Institute. 2018. The Jenner Institute Laboratories. March 1, 2018. <http://www.jenner.ac.uk/edward-jenner>

“Edward Jenner.” BBC History. 2014. BBC. 1 March, 2018. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/jenner_edward.shtml>

“Edward Jenner.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2017. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 1 March, 2018 <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edward-Jenner>

“Jenner tests smallpox vaccine.” This Day in History 2018. A&E Television Networks, LLC. 1 March, 2018. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jenner-tests-smallpox-vaccine>

Stefan Riedel. “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination” NCBI. Jan 18, 2005. The U.S. Government. 1 March, 2018. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1200696/>


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