Tag: variolation

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.

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Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Last year, we found several connections between Father’s Day and vaccines, especially that Maurice Hilleman has often been called the father of modern vaccines.

Is there a mother of modern vaccines?

Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Does it have to be modern vaccines?

Of course, the first person that comes to mind is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learned about smallpox inoculation in Turkey and used it to protect her own children, also advocating for more general use in England.

But that involved variolation, not vaccination.

So who could be the mother of vaccines?

How about the person who “has done more for immunizations that any one person in this whole country?”

Betty Bumpers was a champion in our efforts to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among children in the United States.  She played a major leadership role as 1st Lady of Arkansas in improving immunization in that state and was inspirational in launching the first major Presidential Initiative on Immunization during the late 1970s.  She continued to be a major immunization advocate through much of her life launching “Every Child By Two (ECBT)” which she chaired along with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter, now “Vaccinate Your Family”.

Walter Orenstein

And to honor her, let’s continue her work

Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio...
Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio…

For as Betty Bumpers said, “only when every child has completed his or her series of immunizations will our job be completed.”

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What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Wait, we had vaccines when Ben Franklin was around?

You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.
You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.

That was a long time ago.

What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Well, we had variolation

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

The Benjamin Franklin quote many anti-vaccine folks are using these days (do anti-vaccine folks get daily talking points to use?) doesn’t really have anything to do with vaccines though, at least not in the way that they think it does.

“The Franklin quote he nodded to on Tuesday, ironically, means the opposite of what Paul was arguing. When Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” he was opposing the Penn family’s attempt to carve out an exception for themselves from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s attempt to tax their lands for the collective good of frontier defense. The liberty Franklin was defending was the liberty the rest of us deserve now, too — liberty to choose to protect ourselves.”

Saad B Omer on Rand Paul is wrong: Vaccines are no threat to liberty

It should be clear that Ben Franklin’s quote shouldn’t be used to attack vaccine mandates. If anything, it can be used to attack free-riders and those who skip or delay vaccines and try to hide in the herd!

“It is a quotation that defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. It means, in context, not quite the opposite of what it’s almost always quoted as saying but much closer to the opposite than to the thing that people think it means.”

Benjamin Wittes onBen Franklin’s Famous ‘Liberty, Safety’ Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century

Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin did famously talk about vaccines, or at least smallpox variolation.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin

He got a little temporary safety, avoiding the side effects of variolation, but what were the consequences? What did he lose?

What do you lose when you make decisions about vaccines based on vaccine misinformation?

What do folks like Rand Paul have to gain by speaking out against vaccines?

More on Benjamin Franklin and Vaccines

What Is a Vaccine?

You know what a vaccine is, right?

The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.
The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.

The flu shot you get each year is a vaccine.

Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

Immunization: The Basics

The smallpox shot that Edward Jenner developed was a vaccine.

Vaccine Definitions

While that is an easy enough definition to understand, that there are many different types of vaccines does make it a little more complicated.

There are:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines – made from a weakened or attenuated form of a virus or bacteria
  • Inactivated vaccines – made from a killed form of virus or bacteria
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines – made from only specific pieces of a virus or bacteria
  • Toxoid vaccines – made to target a toxin that a bacteria makes and not the bacteria itself

And of course all of these types of vaccines work to produce immunity to specific diseases – vaccination.

Immunization: A process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination. This term is often used interchangeably with vaccination or inoculation.

Immunization: The Basics

What other definitions are important to know when you talk about vaccines?

  • active immunity – immunity that you get from having a disease (natural immunity) or getting a vaccine and making antibodies
  • adjuvant – a substance that helps boost your body’s immune response to a vaccine so that you can use a minimum amount of antigen, reducing side effects
  • antibodies – protective proteins that you make against antigens
  • antigens – specific substances (can be part of a virus or bacteria) that trigger an immune response
  • attenuation – a virus or bacteria that is made less potent, so that it can produce an immune response without causing disease
  • elimination – getting rid of a disease in a specific area
  • endemic – the baseline level of disease in an area
  • eradication – getting rid of a disease everywhere (smallpox)
  • epidemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a large geographic area
  • herd immunity – when enough people in a community are protected and have immunity, so that disease is unlikely to spread
  • immunity – protection against a disease
  • incubation period – how long it takes to develop symptoms after you are exposed to a disease
  • outbreak – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a small geographic area
  • pandemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over several countries or continents
  • passive immunity – temporary immunity that you get after being given antibodies, either via a shot of immunoglobulin or a mother’s antibodies are transferred to her baby through her placenta
  • placebo – classically defined as “a comparator in a vaccine trial that does not include the antigen under study”
  • quarantine – isolating someone so that they don’t get others sick
  • titer – an antibody count that can often be used to predict immunity

Got all of that?

So what about variolation, the process that was used before Jenner developed his smallpox vaccine? Was that also a vaccine?

It did produce immunity to smallpox, which is the basic definition of a vaccine, but still, variolation is typically concerned an immunization technique and not a vaccine.

More on Vaccine Definitions

Why Aren’t Vaccines Mentioned in the Bible?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that vaccines aren’t mentioned in the Bible.

It’s the same reason antibiotics, airplanes, and pasteurization aren’t mentioned – they weren’t invented yet.

Remember, Edward Jenner first vaccinated James Phipps with his smallpox vaccine in 1796.

Why Aren’t Vaccines Mentioned in the Bible?

But even before the smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, we had variolation. While we have evidence of smallpox infections as early as the 2nd millennium BC, the earliest use of variolation is from the 10th to 18th Century, well after the Bible was written.

Why would vaccines be mentioned in the Bible?
Why would vaccines be mentioned in the Bible?

Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some anti-vaccine folks use the Bible and religion against vaccines.

“I just decided to just google what the bible says about vaccines. There’s nothing in the bible that talks about vaccines. I just want you to think about that. So if God knew in the future that he was going to create these amazing things that were going to be the best scientific advancements, like oh, my God, they’re so great, why isn’t there anything, any inkling of talk about these things called vaccinations coming into being later to save people? If that was really God’s plan and they’re so amazing, then why isn’t it in there at all? Maybe there’s a chapter where they talk about something like an injection, like this health injection, right? Like, why didn’t God talk about that if he knew that it was going to come and save the world?”

Brittney Kara

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that they do it to try and sell you stuff, like Brittney Kara’s “Awakening Reset Program.”

Or Isagenix products.

Wait, is Isagenix mentioned in the Bible?

“You can be confident that Isagenix is committed to your success by offering you the opportunity to live a healthy, clean, and lean lifestyle—and to create wealth while doing so.”

Are multi-level marketing companies?

Brittney Kara is not the first anti-vaccine person to say that God does not support vaccines and she likely won’t be the last.

“The society of the 21st century, just as many societies and cultures in the history of human civilization, use religion as an excuse for wars, discrimination, and now for vaccination refusal.”

Pelčić on Religious exception for vaccination or religious excuses for avoiding vaccination

She may be the first to say that “believing in vaccines is a mental disorder.”

Not sure where she gets that…

Still, despite the availability of religious exemptions to vaccines in most states, it is important to understand that no mainstream religions oppose vaccines.

“For its part, Catholic social teaching entails a duty to vaccinate in order to protect the vulnerable.”

Paul J. Carson on Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate

In fact, most teach about a duty and moral obligation to vaccinate.

“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us. It is heartbreaking to think that three million children die each year from diseases that we can prevent.”

Nelson Mandela (2002 Vaccine Conference)

And if there is a moral obligation to get vaccinated, then what does that say about those who push propaganda that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?

More on Vaccines and the Bible

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Smallpox Edition

Anti-vaccine folks really like comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated kids.

Why?

They think that unvaccinated kids are healthier, even though we know that they aren’t, they simply get more vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Smallpox Edition

And we have known it for a long time. In Leicester, for example, it was known that folks weren’t vaccinated were much more likely to die of smallpox than those who were. In fact, the fatality rate in Leicester in the late 19th century and early 20th century was 1 to 2% for those who were vaccinated. What was it for folks who were unvaccinated? It was 8 to 12%!

And like many other diseases, if they did get sick, those who were vaccinated against smallpox often got a very mild case, especially as compared to those who were unvaccinated. We can see that even now thanks to photographs taken by Dr. Allan Warner, the Resident Medical Officer to the Isolation Hospital in Leicester.

Vaccinated vs unvaccinated with smallpox.

Dr. Warner’s photos have been published time and again, but they can originally be found in the New Sydenham Society’s Atlas of 1904.

Vaccinated vs unvaccinated sisters with smallpox.

There are many photos and many stories from the time that were testament to the fact that vaccines work.

“A boy, aged 14 years, unvaccinated, sickened with small pox on April 14th. He was removed to hospital on April 18th, where he had a severe confluent attack. The father consented to his wife and three children being vaccinated, stating that personally he would not be vaccinated, but would be a “test,” to see if there was anything in it.

Ten days later his daughter, aged three years, developed a small-pox eruption she had less than one hundred spots and never appeared ill. No other person in the house suffered from small-pox except the father, vaccinated in infancy, his eruption appearing fourteen days after the son had been removed to hospital. A photograph of the father and daughter, taken on the twelfth day of the father’s eruption, may be seen in Plate VI. [see below] and requires no comment.”

This father was the only one in the family who skipped getting vaccinated, and he got smallpox.
This father was the only one in the family who skipped getting vaccinated, and he got smallpox.

And there are also stories of folks skipping vaccines already. Remember, the anti-vaccine movement is even older than the first vaccines. It started with variolation. By the time these photos were taken, anti-vaccine folks had already marched on Leicester. A march that didn’t turn folks away from getting vaccinated.

The Vaccination of Contacts part of the Leicester Method is usually left out by anti-vaccination folks.
Folks were still getting vaccinated using the Leicester Method in Leicester.

For those who think getting smallpox was all about poor nutrition and hygiene, how do you explain these photos? Why such different outcomes for people in the same family, if it wasn’t their vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine clearly worked.
It was the vaccine, as this report on an outbreak of smallpox in 1903 clearly showed.

And that’s why the anti-vaccine movement “slowly faded from view” in the early 20th century.

Too bad we let them come back…

What to Know About Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated with Smallpox

It should be clear that in the era of smallpox, like with other vaccine-preventable diseases, you clearly wanted to be vaccinated.

More on Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated with Smallpox

The Hospital Rock Engravings of Farmington, Connecticut

Vaccines are a lot safer than they used to be in the old days.

No, I’m not talking about the “crude brew” that was the original DTP vaccine.

This older vaccine used more antigens than the DTaP vaccine that replaced it, so could cause more side effects. Even before that though, there was less oversight of vaccine manufacturers in the early 20th century. This could lead to vaccines that were contaminated or which simply didn’t work.

That certainly was a problem with the early smallpox vaccine, which is typically considered to be the most dangerous vaccine ever routinely used.

Variolation and Smallpox

But even before the smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, we had variolation.

While the smallpox vaccine involved the cowpox virus, variolation actually infected someone with smallpox. The idea was to give the person a milder form by exposing them to a weaker, or attenuated, form of the virus.

They got this weakened virus from the smallpox scabs of someone who had already recovered and:

  • blowing dried smallpox scabs into their nose
  • applying pus from smallpox scabs to a small puncture wound on their skin

Variolation worked, giving the person immunity to smallpox – if they survived.

Unfortunately, about 1 to 3% of people who underwent variolation died.

And people who had recently undergone variolation could be contagious, leading to smallpox epidemics.

So why did folks undergo variolation if they had a chance of dying from the procedure?

It’s simple.

A natural smallpox infection was so much more deadly. Up to 30% of people who got smallpox died, and many people eventually got caught up in the regular smallpox epidemics that plagued people in the pre-vaccine era.

The Hospital Rock Engravings of Farmington, Connecticut

We don’t have to worry about smallpox anymore.

Well, not about natural smallpox infections, since smallpox was eradicated back in 1980.

And there are many other diseases that we get vaccinated against, with it being extremely easy to get that protection, especially compared to what folks did in the old days.

Do you know how far folks went to make variolation safer?

“Every year, thousands undergo this operation, and the French Ambassador says pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England…”
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu On Small Pox in Turkey (1717)

They actually went to smallpox hospitals to get vaccinated, remaining in quarantine for up to three weeks so that they wouldn’t get others sick.

In Farmington, Connecticut, two doctors established the Todd-Wadsworth Smallpox Hospital and had a lot of success with variolation.

Patients were no longer starved before inoculation, and many had begun to doubt the efficacy and safety of vomiting, sweats, purges, mercurials (toxic mercury salts such as calomel), and bleeding which had previously weakened both inoculees and those who “took the pox in the natural way.”

Charles Leach, MD on Hospital Rock

There, up to 20 patients at a time stayed in quarantine to get variolated, as a smallpox epidemic hit nearby Boston.

Patients engraved their name on Hospital Rock in the late 1700s near Farmington.
Patients engraved their name on Hospital Rock in the late 1700s near Farmington. Photo by Keith Wilkens

Between 1792 and 1794, many who got variolated wrote their names on what is now known as Hospital Rock.

“Many have supposed that the names on this rock were those who had did of the small-pox, but this is a great mistake. Every name on the rock is that of a person who was living when the name was placed there. Norris Stanley lived to own ships which were captured in the war of 1812 by Algerian pirates and still later to receive from the United States an indeminity therefor amounting to a large sum.”

James Shepard on The Small Pox Hospital Rock

The nearby town of Durham seemed to go a different way.

Instead of an inoculation hospital, they had a pest house to quarantine folks with natural smallpox infections.

Adding to the history of smallpox in Connecticut – a smallpox burying ground in Guilford.

Why wasn’t variolation popular everywhere? Folks didn’t have to wait for the first vaccine for the anti-vaccine movement to get started.

What to Know About Smallpox and the Hospital Rock Engravings

Hundreds of people got safely inoculated against smallpox and left their names on Hospital Rock near Farmington, Connecticut just before Edward Jenner discovered the first smallpox vaccine.

More on the Hospital Rock Engravings