Saturday, May 14, 2011

Smallpox Vaccine


Edinb., January 10th, 1815.

My Deadest Friend, — I hope you have long since received the Lord of the Ixles; one of the first volumes out of the press was sent to you under an office cover. I could not superintend the sending away these copies as usual, because we were rather a complaining family, as the Scotch say. My eldest boy has contrived to have a decided smallpox, in defiance not only of vaccination, but of inoculation thereafter. You may be assured we were •alarmed enough, for the appearance of the smallpox in this generation is like one of the giants in Ariosto who comes alive after he is killed. Nothing could be more easy than the manner in which he had the disorder, and he is now quite well. I propose to exhibit him along with the Indian Jugglers who are just arrived, as the youngster that has had the smallpox naturally after both vaccination and inoculation. I trust this matter will be closely looked into by medical men, for it will be a very serious business fifty years hence should the smallpox break out suddenly, as probably the lower class may neglect the vaccinating operation, or go through it superficially...'

On May 14, 1796, the English scientist Edward Jenner administered the first smallpox vaccine.  Eight year old James Phipps was the guinea pig.  What worked for Phipps, and many others, was not enough to prevent Sir Walter Scott's son Walter from becoming infected, as Scott's letter above to Lady Abercorn relates.  The practice of smallpox vaccination was only about five years older than teenaged Walter at the time.

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