For a long time people are defenseless against infectious diseases. But in 1796, the doctor Edward Jenner dares a risky experiment: He infects the boy James Phipps with harmless cowpox to protect him from dangerous human pox
Edward Jenner dares an experiment
Medicine could not have achieved one of its greatest victories had it not been for a small, timid boy… 1. July 1796, in the town of Berkeley in western England: "Hold still, it's only a little scribe," Edward Jenner reprimands the eight-year-old boy sitting in front of him with panicked eyes. James Phipps would like to run away. But his father, who works as a gardener at Jenner, told him to obey.
As early as six weeks ago, James had to have the doctor scratch him. At the time, Jenner rubbed pus into his wound. The nasty, yellowish fluid came from the blisters on the skin of a woman who had been sick with cowpox. James also got cowpox. It was unpleasant, the pustules itched, but it was not dangerous. After ten days James was healthy again.
This time it could turn out differently: Because the doctor wants to infect James with human smallpox – one of the cruelest diseases ever! James flinches briefly as the knife cuts into his skin and Jenner smears the wound with pus from the pustule of a smallpox patient.
When the boy goes home, no one knows: will he fall ill? The answer to this question is not only for James. His doctor important – but for all mankind.
For at that time, quite a few deadly epidemics threatened the people: There was the plague, which swept across Europe in waves and depopulated entire countries. Polio, better known as "infantile paralysis," immobilizes countless girls, boys and adults. Diphtheria makes the throat and pharynx of sick people swell until they can no longer breathe. There are also measles, sweating fever, influenza, cholera, typhoid fever, syphilis. And just the smallpox: every tenth Briton dies in 18. In the cities where people live in close proximity to each other, one in five people suffer from eye irritation!
What people didn't know at the time: The diseases are caused by viruses and bacteria, tiny pathogens invisible to the naked eye that often spread at lightning speed. Children are the worst affected. Many do not live to see their fifth birthday. Doctor Edward Jenner also suffered from smallpox as a boy and barely survived. Now, years later, smallpox patients still come to his practice. How it can help you?
Jenner talks to colleagues about the disease: he hears that while milkmaids often contract cowpox, they rarely contract human pox! So could it be that cowpox protects against the murderous human pox? Jenner is enthusiastic about the idea. But he has to check it. Jenner searches for a human guinea pig and finds – James Phipps.
And he actually survives the experiment. Yes, he does not even get sick! Apparently, after being infected with cowpox, his body developed defenses against human smallpox. Jenner calls his procedure "vaccination," after vacca, the Latin word for cow. To publicize his method, he writes an article about it and submits it to the Royal Society, the country's learned society. But the rejects him because the doctor tested his vaccine on only one person. So Jenner infects more people, even his son, who is only eleven months old – and eventually his method is recognized by the Royal Society.
The spread of infectious diseases such as measles can be seen as a Relay Imagine: A sick person infects healthy people who get close to them. They pass the pathogens. If enough people are vaccinated, the relay is quickly interrupted: The sick person meets too few people to infect – spread is prevented. Everyone is safe, even Unvaccinated. Researchers call this herd immunity.
But not all contemporaries are enthusiastic about it. Infecting people with cowpox? "Godless!", rant representatives of the church. Newspapers print mocking pictures of patients turning into cows after treatment. And criticism of vaccination will continue. Even today there are people who refuse vaccinations.
World without smallpox
But Jenner's opponents cannot stop the triumphant advance of his new method: As early as 1807, Bavaria introduces compulsory vaccination. Prussia follows in 1815, England in 1867. End of the 19. Twenty-first century researchers develop more vaccines against rabies, cholera and the plague. Today, children in Germany are vaccinated against more than a dozen diseases. Smallpox is no longer among them. For in 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced: Smallpox has been conquered!
Medicine Is vaccination really necessary?
There are people who refuse to have their children vaccinated. Rightly so? We present some objections – and respond to them.