The Story of Edward Jenner


In 1796 a cowgirl, Sarah Nelmes, saw Dr Jenner about a rash on her hand. He diagnosed cowpox and told him that one of her cows had recently had cowpox. Jenner decided to test his idea by giving cowpox to someone who had not yet suffered smallpox.

He tested his ideas on James Phipps an eight-year old boy. He made some scratches on one of James' arms and rubbed them with some pocks from Sarah's hand. A few days later James became ill with cowpox but was soon well again a week later. Jenner knew that cowpox could pass from person to person.

Next he tested whether the cowpox would now protect James from smallpox. This time he gave James smallpox in the same way .As Jenner anticipated James did not develop smallpox.

All that we know about preventing disease by vaccination follows from the work of Edward Jenner. Many people have died from smallpox in the past. In 1977 a hospital worker in a Somali hospital became ill. He had never been vaccinated. He was the last person on Earth to catch smallpox by natural transmission. In 1980 the World Health Organisation declared that Smallpox had been beaten as jenner had predicted. It has been estimated that the work he began has led to the saving of more human lives than the work of any other person.

Watch our movie about Jenner's discoveries


Jenner and the Cowgirl