Smallpox and Edward Jenner

We are all keenly awaiting positive news about a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. Meanwhile our latest comprehension worksheets takes us back in time to focus on the incredible work of Edward Jenner who developed the vaccine for Smallpox, leading to its worldwide eradication.

Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire on 17th May 1749 and at the age of 8 he was variolated with smallpox. He developed a mild case of the disease and was then immune. He was apprenticed at the age of 14 to a local surgeon before training at St George’s Hospital in London. After training he returned to Berkeley in 1772 and set up as a GP. As a doctor, Jenner became experienced at carrying out the variolation procedure, but due to his own experience as a child he was interested in finding a safer alternative.
It was common knowledge in rural areas that dairymaids who caught cowpox (a milder disease with lesser consequences) whilst milking infected cows never got smallpox and were therefore immune to the disease. Jenner had been discussing this theory for years with the senior surgeons he had trained under and was testing it by the late 1770s. He became a physician and surgeon in 1792 after 20 years as a GP. In 1796 he performed the first documented cowpox variolation on an 8 year old boy called James Phipps with cowpox matter taken from sores on the hand of a dairymaid called Sarah Nelmes. Phipps developed a mild case of cowpox and soon recovered. He was then variolated with smallpox and found to be immune. Jenner called this a ‘vaccine inoculation’ (vacca is the Latin for cow) and it became known as vaccination.
Find out more about Edward Jenner and smallpox in our comprehensions, written at two levels of difficulty.
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