The Gloucestershire man behind the discovery of the vaccination

Born in 1749, Edward Jenner training as a surgeon before returning to Berkeley with a renewed enthusiasm to uncover the secrets of the natural world. Credit: Dr Jenner's House, museum & Garden

At the start of the biggest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS, it is worth remembering the man behind the first vaccine came from Gloucestershire.

Edward Jenner, a physician who lived in Berkeley, got the ball rolling in 1786 with his pioneering work on a smallpox vaccine.

He had noticed 'milkmaids' who hand milked cows caught cowpox, a virus related to smallpox but not so harmful. 

In the 1800s smallpox was killing up to 20 per cent of the population in crowded towns and cities. 

Jenner, along with other doctors and scientists, noticed the milkmaids seemed immune to smallpox. 

1811 engraving of a cow's udder with vaccinia pustules and human arms exhibiting both smallpox and cowpox pustules. Credit: Wellcome Collection

On the 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his theory by inoculating an eight-year-old boy called James Phipps who was the son of his gardener.

He scraped pus from cowpox blisters on the hands of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught the disease from a cow called Blossom.

Jenner's methods certainly would not be used today but the principles of what he learnt are still a core part of vaccine development. Credit: Jenner Museum

He inoculated James in both of his arms, using the pus, and then waited.After James had got over the slight fever the cow pox gave him, Jenner then gave him some pus from smallpox blisters which contained live viruses.

This is highly risky exercise and would never be allowed today, but James did not contract the disease.

It seemed the gamble had paid off and the young boy was immune. 

The museum in Berkley has had fun online with how Edward Jenner would have reacted during 2020 Credit: Twitter @DrJennersHouse

Jenner's legacy cannot be overstated. In 1980, the World Health Organisation declared smallpox to be an eradicated disease.

Millions of lives have been saved and now, a new era of mass vaccination has started.

The so called birthplace of the vaccine lives on at the Jenner Museum, based at the scientist's former home in Berkeley.

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