On 14th May 1796 Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccine. Jenner had got the idea from innoculations using cowpox. Though he never understood why it worked, it was a huge success. Smallpox, a virulent killer, was eventually eradicated as a result of development of the vaccine.

Edward Jenner administered the first Smallpox vaccine on 14th May 1796

Teaching Resource: Edward Jenner and the Smallpox Vaccine

Jenner faced opposition to his vaccine. It was a ground breaking idea. Many people were scared of the process. It made no sense to lots of people. Jenner fought off opposition from the Anti-Vaccine League. He received funding to give up his GP work to develop his vaccine.

The developments worked. The number of people succumbing to Smallpox dropped. Jenner’s idea soon spread to other countries. He was applauded and given formal thanks in countries such as the United States and France.

Smallpox was a horrible disease. Death was painful. Those who survived were often badly disfigured. The disease is often overshadowed by a concentration on plague. This was no second rate, insignificant ‘other’ though. Smallpox lasted through many civilisations. It killed and maimed across continents. Rich and poor were it’s victims.

In 2010 I was fortunate to have a small role in the development of a documentary about Smallpox. It turned out to be quite a good documentary, winning a Bafta. The resources were created by Andrew Chater and funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust.

Timelines.tv Smallpox through time contains a range of clips tracing the history of Smallpox. It tracks victims, beliefs, treatments. Then it addresses the work of Jenner. Unlike many resources, it doesn’t stop with the intoduction of a vaccine. Here there is follow up, seeing the story through to the declaration that Smallpox was eradicated.

Edward Jenner Links

Online lesson: Edward Jenner and the Smallpox vaccine. Hosted on our Medicine Through Time website.

Edward Jenner biography.

British History
History teachers’ resources