History of Vaccines – Killing Smallpox – Extra History


It starts with a breath The virus lodges in the mouth and throat, makes its way to the lymph nodes, and begins to migrate from cell to cell 12 days later. It’s in the bloodstream multiplying in the bone marrow and spleen Symptoms appear. High fever muscle pain headache and weakness Spots appear in the mouth and throat, rupturing, releasing virus into the saliva Next it attacks the skin A rash forms Then fluid-filled blisters on the face and torso, walking down the extremities From there, it takes its ordinary, modified, malignant, or hemorrhagic forms Death rates, depending on the form, ranged from 30 to over 90% This is smallpox a disease that appeared in the ancient texts of India and has been found in Egyptian pharaohs A virus that ravaged ancient Rome and toppled the indigenous societies of the Americas A plague so deadly humans have dedicated several gods to the disease And it’s one of only two diseases humans have ever eradicated Arrangement – Actraiser [Birth of the people] This episode is brought to you by the child and team checkups program of Minnesota As a parent, you worry about your child So you should visit your nearest clinic for a wellness check, free for infants through young adults You’ll be happy knowing your child is healthy. Learn more at the links below It’s difficult to overestimate the impact of small pox on human history From killing monarchs to paving the way for colonialism in the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and Australia it was a disease that, like tuberculosis, seemed like a permanent fact of life In eighteenth century Europe, an estimated 400,000 people died from it every year and most people got it during their lifetimes It’s high mortality rate for children –at times 80%– was a major factor in lowering lifespans But that’s the view from orbit; because on an individual level, this disease was even worse those infected needed constant care, meaning it easily passed to caregivers, wiping out whole families And survivors experienced the permanent effects from deep pitted facial scars to the loss of eyelashes to blindness This was so common that ladies etiquette books advised on how to properly console a friend whose beauty had been ravaged by the disease The only guard against smallpox was a process called variolation, where a doctor would cut open the pustule of an infected patient, dry the extracted material, then rub it into a cut on the arm of a healthy patient This procedure was brought to England in 1718 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who witnessed the procedure in the Ottoman Empire, where her husband was serving as the British ambassador while Europeans had heard of the practice, Lady Mary became an advocate
for bringing the procedure to England, having both her own children variolated and got permission to test it successfully on six prisoners at Newgate By 1722, members of the royal family were being variolated now variolation was not vaccination It was giving someone a weakened version of full-blown smallpox But it was better than nothing In experiments at the time, about 2 percent of people died from the procedure, versus the 14 percent of natural infections But the infected person also became contagious, putting friends and family at risk and requiring a period of quarantine in other words It was both extremely expensive and only available to the rich, who could afford professional care and to stop working One of those variolated was a teenage boy named Edward Jenner and the procedure was the talk of the school Everyone had an opinion, even the milkmaid, who said she didn’t need it Yeah, because you see, she already had cow pox, she said, and people who get cow pox never get smallpox it was a statement that stuck with Jenner for decades: as he finished school, as he apprenticed under the great surgeon John Hunter, as he returned home to become a county doctor, and while fooling around with hot air balloons and zoological pursuits, eventually, this offhand comment would lead him to develop something that would save more lives than any other discovery in history In 1796 a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmus came to him, exhibiting signs of cow pox Remembering the mention from his youth, he asked the young woman whether she’d ever had smallpox She hadn’t. Having studied both animals and people, Jenner knew diseases could pass between them But cow pox was a mild disease, causing mere ligence on hands and arms and also not very infectious person-to-person Was it possible that an infection with the mild cow pox could provide immunity from smallpox? He decided to test it on James Phillips, the son of his gardener, who was 8 years old now That could be seen as wildly unethical today but in generous defense part of it was likely practical Smallpox was so endemic that children were the only people who hadn’t had it at one time or another and if he were right this would be one child who had never have to face its horrors We assume he had his father’s permission, but it is worth mentioning that we don’t know Philips’ part of the story So, he gave Philips cow pox, then tried to variolate him with smallpox No symptoms The kid was immune but not only that he discovered that cow pox could be transmitted person to person, making vaccination much easier. And that was the term he created: vaccinations, from his new Latin name for cow pox, which literally meant smallpox of the cow He conducted 23 more experimental vaccinations, including on his infant son, and submitted a paper to the Royal Society Now Jenner was not the first to vaccinate with cow pox It had been proposed or carried out a half dozen times already But none of those incidents were published, studied, or publicized. Jenner, by contrast, made promoting vaccination his life’s work But not everyone believed Jenner’s work, not initially. Attempts to replicate his results sometimes failed due to specimen contamination and because there were no standardized methods of vaccination. Some doctors who tried the person-to-person procedure Accidentally transmitted more than cow pox. He hikes imagine that awkward doctor’s appointment Congratulations, you’re now immune to smallpox also, um you now have syphilis and these unfortunate incidents while more than one in a million helped feed a strong backlash against Vaccination some objections were religious people who thought that vaccination interfered with the divine plants or polluted the human form with animal matter Some objections were tragically financial and some doctors objected to it because variolation was a lucrative procedure They didn’t want to abandon and of course some objections were ego-driven because who was this country doctor to tell people how to practice medicine Anti vaccination leagues and societies formed including a few with let’s just say ill informed Positions one famous political cartoon showed a cow’s head emerging from people’s bodies After getting Jenner’s vaccine others claimed that the vaccine itself could cause diseases like syphilis rather than transfer them via Contamination but despite the opposition Jenner worked to promote vaccination as safe and important He freely shared the process with doctors abroad sending it to America and France Napoleon Insisted that his troops be vaccinated and even though he was at war with the United Kingdom Presented Jenner with a medal for saving so many French lives actually Jenner was so respected in France that he was sent to negotiate the return of prisoners of war in 1803 a Spanish expedition brought Jenner’s vaccine to Latin America the Philippines and China a Humanitarian mission only slightly undercut by the fact that to keep the cowpox alive during the voyage They had to enlist twenty-two orphans as successive carriers of the virus But Jenner had spent so much time promoting vaccinations that he had neglected his own medical practice and his money began to run dry Still he set up a Hut in his backyard calling it the temple of vaccinia where he gave out free Vaccinations to anyone who could not afford it seeing how his public work had affected him And seeing how he had not tried to profit from vaccinations in 1802 Parliament granted him ten thousand pounds for his work and then another twenty thousand five years later in 1821 he was appointed the physician extraordinary of King George the fourth, but died shortly afterward Jenner’s work however continued in 1813 the US Congress passed legislation ensuring the public had access to the vaccine and started to vaccinate its extremely vulnerable Native American population in 1832 by 1853 the vaccination was compulsory for infants in England though opposition rolled that back in 1907 and Opposition was not always peaceful in 1904 a mandatory Vaccination law in Brazil caused a revolt and 30 people died in street fighting in India people often preferred Variolation because the use of cattle in producing vaccine was at odds with the animal stature in Hinduism But then in 1958 something amazing happened a Soviet health minister asked the members of the World Health Organization to form a global campaign to eradicate smallpox the US and Soviet Union would end up donating 80 percent of the vaccine used in the effort and by 1979 one of the greatest efforts of cold war cooperation had yielded an amazing result Smallpox now only existed in the lab less than 200 years after the first vaccine smallpox was gone Mankind can never forget that you have lived read a letter of thanks Jenna received in 1806 Future nations will know by history only that the loathsome smallpox has existed and by you has been extirpated Fervent wishes for your health Thomas Jefferson. See you next time everybody Once again, thanks so much to the child and team checkups program of Minnesota for sponsoring this episode as a parent I imagine you always worry a little bit about your child. So that’s why there’s free child and team checkups Bring your child to your clinic for a free wellness check Your doctor will check hearing vision teeth and offer wellness information for your child’s age also You can ask your doctor about vaccinations and help safeguard your child from preventable diseases Such as tetanus polio and measles so you can be happy knowing your child is healthy and it’s all completely free Learn more at the links below “Extra History – Odds and Ends”
by Sean Kiner and Dean Kiner

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