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Did Edward Jenner’s Son Die from a Vaccine Reaction?

Maybe people know that Edward Jenner first gave his new smallpox vaccine to James Phipps, the 8-year-old son of Jenner’s gardener.

What they might now know is that two years later, in 1798, he also vaccinated his own son Robert F. Jenner, when he was eleven months old.

Did Edward Jenner’s Son Die from a Vaccine Reaction?

Did he die after getting vaccinated?

Did he suffer brain damage?

Of course not!

Edward Jenner vaccinated his youngest son, Robert.
Edward Jenner vaccinated his youngest son, Robert.

He didn’t even have a reaction and was later inoculated after being exposed to smallpox.

“My two eldest children were inoculated for the smallpox before I began to inoculate for the cow-pox. My youngest child was born about the time my experiments commenced, and was among the earliest I ever vaccinated. By referring to the first work I published on the subject in the spring of the year 1798, page 40, you will find his name, Robert F. Jenner, and you will observe it noticed that on his arm the vaccine lymph did not prove infectious. It advanced two or three days, and then died away.”

Edward Jenner on the Life of Dr. Jenner

He died 56 years later.

Edward Jenner’s other children didn’t receive his smallpox vaccine. As they were all born before his experiments with cowpox, they had already received traditional smallpox inoculations.

“Edward is growing tall, and has long looked over my head. Catherine, now eleven years old, is a promising girl; and Robert, eight years old, is just a chip of the old block.”

Edward Jenner on the Life of Dr. Jenner

Edward Robert Jenner did die young, but it certainly wasn’t an effect of his father’s smallpox vaccine. He died of tuberculosis, which was a common killer at the time. He was 21 and had always had health problems, but again, he never received his father’s new vaccine, so how could he be the “first child to suffer vaccine damage???”

This myth is easy to debunk. Jenner's son that died young was never vaccinated!
This myth is easy to debunk. Jenner’s son, Edward, that died young was never vaccinated!

What about the ethical implications of giving an experimental vaccine to your own child? A vaccine made with cow pus?

Remember, Jenner’s smallpox vaccine was made with cowpox virus. It was replacing variolation, a procedure in which people were actually inoculated with smallpox virus. While much better than getting smallpox, variolation was still dangerous and some people died from the procedure.

His smallpox vaccine was a much safer option.

More on Edward Jenner’s Son

4 thoughts on “Did Edward Jenner’s Son Die from a Vaccine Reaction?”

  1. John Calvin Jones, PhD, JD

    Jenner had no formal or basic training in biology, chemistry, or nutrition. He bought his medical license (White 1885). Jenner (1798) described his inoculation procedure as that of inserting pus and or lymph into cuts or punctures of the skin. We have no idea what he, and other doctors [sic] of the time, put in their inoculations. Jenner never discovered, isolated, or replicated any viruses. Jenner (1798) reported that his object was to produce smallpox and or cowpox infection in his patients. Ultimately, he also treated what he called smallpox and cowpox blisters with ointments of mercury and antimony compounds (1799). Sadly tuberculosis outbreaks followed vaccination campaigns (Rilliet and Barthez 1838; White 1885; Prinzing and Westergaard 1916). Then again, when we recount the horrors, correlation is not causation … but if we think that injections of metals and proteins is a benefit, correlation proves causation.

  2. Thanks, John Calvin Jones. Your summary looks excellent!

    And I plan to place it on my Facebook timeline, with attribution.

    1. John Calvin Jones

      Dear Steven Avery, thank you. I am re-reading Baron (1827), the Life of Jenner. In 1789, Edward Jr., was “inoculated” but with pus from a pig (swine pox). Between November 1789 and March 1792, Jenner also variolated the boy five or six times (see Baron 1827: 130-131). Baron (1828) describes the boy as so sickly, that he never attended school. Though I cannot find any report on the vaccination / inoculation status of Jenner’s wife, are we surprised to learn that she was sickly and died of tuberculosis too? Lastly, according to researchers at Iowa State University, swine pox is not contagious to humans, and is only found when pigs live in unsanitary conditions. It is highly prevalent in Kenya, and practically non-existent in some European countries. Does that pattern of illness / infection sound familiar?

  3. Ummmm Your article contradicts itself, at the top you say Robert was vaccinated and then at the bottom you say that he could not have been the first (of many many children) to be harmed by vaccines because he was never even vaccinated. I wonder why he was unhealthy, and died young after receiving the vaccine as opposed to his older siblings whom did not receive it.

    Also what about the Gardeners son who also dies of tuberculosis at the age of 20?

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