The anti-vaxxers have been around as long as the vaccines

But why? Edward Jenner was up against sceptics, professional jealousy and religion. Today, rumours still persist, the latest being that the Oxford Covid vaccine could turn your child into a chimp. Mick O'Hare explains

Thursday 26 November 2020 17:11
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<p>Ethics aside, people were reluctant to be injected with goo from a cowpox blister &nbsp;</p>

Ethics aside, people were reluctant to be injected with goo from a cowpox blister  

So what do Kanye West, Piers Corbyn and David Icke all have in common? Anti-vax, anti-lockdown, alien conspiracies… Yes, of course, all of that but, putting aside the obvious, it’s a pretty nailed-on certainty that had any of them been around back in the late 18th century they wouldn’t have reckoned much to Edward Jenner.

Jenner was, of course, the “father of immunology”; the English doctor who created the world’s first vaccine two-and-a-quarter centuries ago. And as the world is set to roll out one or more new vaccinations for Covid-19 it is worth noting that the kind of scepticism Icke and his ilk have been propagating has a long history. Jenner himself was all too aware of its effects.

The Gloucestershire doctor had noticed that people who had contracted the cowpox virus seemed to be immune to smallpox – outbreaks of which were common in Jenner’s time and killed a fifth of those who caught it. So Jenner collected pus from cowpox pustules and injected them into an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps. Later he twice exposed Phipps to the smallpox virus and found no infection. It was one of medical science’s great breakthroughs. Others had been aware of the protective nature of smallpox but Jenner was the first to create a specific vaccine (which he named after the Latin word for cow: vacca).

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