Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823)
Edward Jenner’s inclusion on this list is a bit of an oddity- Whereas everyone else has a body of work that spans a range of disciplines, Jenner is famed for one thing and one thing only, and there is a good chance that you are alive today because of this.
Jenner is often called the father of immunology, and it is thought that he has saved more lives than any other human.
Jenner worked as a doctor; he performed a lot of research and pioneered new techniques. During this time roughly sixty percent of people in the UK caught smallpox, and around 20% of the population died of smallpox. There were very few preventative measures to stop the spread of the disease.
Variolation was used at the time, where people were purposefully infected with the smallpox virus, usually from a person who was recovering from the disease, so the virus was weakened. This was not 100% effective, and infecting someone with smallpox was not without risk.
Jenner noticed that milkmaids who milked cows for a living were never affected by the smallpox virus. He spoke to them in order to attempt to find out why this was. What he found was that all of them
contracted a far less serious infection – cowpox.
Jenner decided to inoculate a child with pus from cowpox sores. In order to purposefully give that child cowpox. Once the infection had passed, Jenner then purposefully infected the child with pus from smallpox sores. The child was immune to smallpox and had been vaccinated.
This technique forms the basis of all modern vaccination. In 1979 the smallpox virus was eradicated due to thorough vaccination programmes that spanned the entire globe. Thanks to the work of Jenner and those who followed on from him, the world will never see another case of smallpox.