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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