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Word Geek – Vaccine

By Tarli Cameron | May 20, 2021 | Word Geek

Word Geek – Vaccine

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, at least seven different vaccines have been created and are currently being distributed worldwide, providing a safe way for life to return to a semblance of normality. But where does the term ‘vaccine’ come from?

The use of the word ‘vaccine’ was first recorded by British Physician, Edward Jenner who had heard tales over the years of milkmaids showing signs of immunity from smallpox, after being naturally exposed to and infected with cowpox.

With great interest, Jenner began his own research to see if there was some truth in these rumours and chose eight-year-old farmer’s son, James Phipps, to be his test subject. Jenner inoculated James with cowpox and the young boy only experienced some small discomfort in his arm and a mild fever. Several days later, Jenner inoculated the boy again and no disease developed. It was at this point that Edward Jenner satisfied his theory that exposure to cowpox resulted in Phipps being immune to smallpox.

After his study with James Phipps, Jenner went on to carry out several more experiments, many with small children, all of which confirmed his theory that cowpox provided immunity against smallpox. In 1798, two years after his initial interest in the theory, Jenner went on to publish his findings in his book entitled An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae; a Disease discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and Known by the Name of The Cow Pox. It was in this publication that Jenner coined the word ‘vaccine’ which derives from the Latin ‘vacca’ for cow.

For many years, Jenner was the subject of mockery and with many communities unable to access medical treatment, it was several years before the value of his vaccine was truly recognised. In fact, it was 30 years on from Jenner’s death that the smallpox vaccine was compulsory in both England and Wales and 1980 before the world was declared free of smallpox.