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How a Young Boy, a Cow and a Milkmaid Helped to Conquer Smallpox [Video]

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If you aren’t familiar with the TEDEd series of animated videos, you should be. The series pairs professional educators with top-notch animators to create short video “lessons” on a huge variety of topics in science, medicine and history.
 The latest episode features several of the early attempts to fight smallpox, a disease caused by a highly infectious, often fatal virus that plagued humanity for at least 10,000 years and wasn’t fully eradicated until 1979. Physician Edward Jenner (1749–1823) is credited with developing the first vaccine against smallpox, but as the video points out, he probably wouldn’t have gotten far without a young boy named James Phipps, a cow and milkmaid Sarah Nelmes.


About the Author: Eric is the resident video producer and an associate editor at Scientific American. He graduated from the University of Washington with a B.S. in biochemistry and New York University with an M.A. in science journalism. His work has also appeared on the websites of Nature, Nature Medicine, Popular Science and The New York Times among many others. Follow on Twitter @EricROlson.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. KirkMcLoren 1:45 pm 10/30/2013

    Sadly the truth is a scarce element in most things. The wife of the British Ambassador to Turkey told Jenner what the Turks were doing. He did not invent it. What’s more why do we neglect the rest of the story? After Jenner and friends talked the House of Lords into ordering public inoculation the death rate went up by an order of magnitude. Ever hear about that? Why not?

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  2. 2. milbry 2:25 pm 10/30/2013

    Jenner got all his information and ideas from Mary Wortley Montague who discovered that the Turks used a form of injection to protect against smallpox — this was over a century before Jenner. She wrote about it but at the time the treatment was seen as witchcraft and dismissed although she did inoculate members of the Royal Family and some convicts.

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