Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner biography
John Raphael Smith / Public Domain

Edward Jenner biography

Edward Jenner (May 17, 1749 – January 27, 1823) anatomist and physician, considered to be the father of immunology. His birthplace was Berkeley, Gloucestershire, Great Britain. Fourth son of Reverend Jenner, vicar of Berkeley. When he was 5 years old his father died and he passed under the protection of his older brother, also a cleric. While studying at the local school, he showed great interest in nature and animals, which unleashed his taste for zoology. At the same time that he studied, he dedicated his free time to work as an assistant for one of the few doctors in town. After leaving school, he studied the plumage of birds, the natural history of eels and the temperature of hedgehogs.

When he was 21 years old, he decided to give a direction to his professional and academic life. He moved to London to begin his anatomy and surgery studies at the Saint George Hospital, where he met the famous surgeon while performing the practical stage, John Hunter. Among them would emerge a friendship that lasted until the death of the teacher. He served for nine years as his apprentice surgeon, this work was so important to Edward Jenner that he turned down the post of naturalist on Captain Cook’s second expedition across the Pacific Ocean.

After long years of learning, he felt able to return to his hometown to practice medicine. In 1773 he opened a small office where he carried out private consultations, little by little, and gained prestige among the residents. Years later, he met Catherine Kingscote, with whom he would get married, Catherine collaborated remarkably with the work of her husband, and also took care of their three children.

In this period of time, an epidemic spread that devastated the lives of many people, Jenner decides to start tracking this disease, known as smallpox. So his first action was to observe carefully during long hours the environment in which infected people developed. As a first result, Dr. Edward Jenner perceived that women who milked cows developed smallpox less frequently. In one of his visits to distant territories he attended a girl who consulted him about skin rashes, she was a milker, Edward quickly resembled the previous studies, detecting smallpox.

Edward Jenner discovered that smallpox is a variant of cowpox. In 1796, he extracted infected material from a patient affected by cowpox and inoculated it to an eight-year-old boy who agilely developed a mild fever and small skin lesions. After his recovery, he inoculated the boy again, but this time with the smallpox virus, without the disease developing. In this sense, he discovered that the same disease did not develop twice in the same organism and that it exerted an immune effect with respect to conventional smallpox in the people who had contracted it. Jenner then did the test with 23 other people, with the same result. Finally, the English physician raised the conjecture that cowpox vesicle secretion was what protected the women who milked.

This principle was based on the practical evidence that a subject who had overcome the disease did not contract it again. However, the inoculated person did not always develop a mild version of the disease and could die in some cases. In addition, he managed to act as a source of infection for those around him.

In 1798 he published his research in which he carefully developed the results of his experiments, and coined the term vaccine, from the word Vacca in Latin. The reactions did not take long to come, the scientists of the time and the members of the Medical Association of London were opposed to the treatment of Dr. Jenner, the controversy was such that violent and offensive criticism arose. Even from the church, it was preached that the vaccine was an anti-Christian action. His critics, especially his local clergyman, stated that it was disgusting and impious to inoculate someone with the stuff of a sick animal. Criticisms were also present in satirical cartoons, for example, in 1802 a cartoon showing Dr. Edward Jenner at the St Pancras hospital in London was published, illustrating the fear and skepticism of many.

The memory with the results obtained was rejected by the Royal Society, but he published it in 1798, also including the favorable results of other subsequent tests. Not without problems, the practice of vaccination was extended from the field of private medical action to the national, continental and world level.

However, not everything was ridiculed, many doctors around the world were interested in learning from his experience, Jenner on many occasions sent samples of the vaccine. He quickly became famous. Kings and emperors gave him gifts. In 1802 the British Parliament gave him a sum of money recognizing his great work, contribution to medicine and humanity. Although he became rich, he continued his quiet life in the same old house in Berkeley and continued to work as a rural doctor, caring for people without distinction. He carried out free mass campaigns in which he vaccinated almost 200 people a day. He decided to withdraw from scientific activity in 1815. Edward Jenner died of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 27, 1826, at age 76.

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