MAR 22, 2017 3:05 PM PDT

How Cows Helped Develop The World's First Vaccine

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Smallpox once claimed nearly 400,000 lives every year during the 18th century. It continued to plague us well into the 20th century, with death tolls reaching between 300 to 500 million. Today, smallpox is considered to have been eradicated. And this unprecedented shift in survival is singularly attributed to the development of vaccines.

The history of vaccines is unglamorous and even outlandish. In the 1790s, Edward Jenner, observed that milkmaids rarely ever caught smallpox. Instead, these women contracted cowpox, which was a milder form of the disease that was not nearly as deadly. Jenner hypothesized that pathogens in the cowpox provided protection against smallpox. This was the beginning of the first smallpox vaccine.

Jenner tested his hypothesis by exposing an 8-year-old boy to cowpox pus he collected straight from the animal's blister. Although the boy developed a blister from the infection, he recovered and was subsequently immune when Jenner later exposed him to actual smallpox.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
DEC 10, 2019
Earth & The Environment
DEC 10, 2019
Greenland's Ice Sheet is Experiencing "Worst-Case Scenario" Loss
Greenland’s Ice Sheet—which covers 75% of the land’s mass—is melting at a rate aligned with “worst-case scenario” sea l...
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
Eagle vs. Octopus
The animal food chain is somewhat straightforward, with larger animals often hunting smaller animals in an attempt to ensure their own survival. Unfortunat...
DEC 22, 2019
Space & Astronomy
DEC 22, 2019
Boeing Launches Botched Starliner Demo Mission for NASA
Boeing finally moved forward with the initial un-crewed test launch of its Starliner Commercial Crew spacecraft for NASA at the end of this past week follo...
JAN 16, 2020
Health & Medicine
JAN 16, 2020
Babies in Africa Receive World's First Malaria Vaccine
Would you accept a vaccine that was only 40% effective? For those at risk of malaria, the answer is likely a resounding, "yes!" According to the...
JAN 21, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 21, 2020
Here's Why SpaceX Blew Up a Falcon 9 Rocket in Mid-Air
SpaceX completed a substantial milestone for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program this week, an undertaking that involved one of the commercial space compa...
FEB 20, 2020
Cardiology
FEB 20, 2020
Most Commonly Birth Defects Affect The Heart
Birth defects are not uncommon. For every 33 babies born in the United States each year, one is born with a defect. That adds up to about 120,000 babies ea...
Loading Comments...