Scientists shed new light on an old mystery: the origins of the smallpox vaccine

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Susan Perry The story of Edward Jenner, a British country doctor who pioneered the smallpox vaccine at the end of the 18th century, is one of the most famous in medicine.On May 14, 1796, Jenner inoculated the 8-year-old son of his gardener several times with pus taken from a fresh cowpox lesion on the hand of a young milkmaid, Sarah Nelms. Jenner had become intrigued with a bit of local folklore that noted how milkmaids who contracted cowpox, a mild illness, never came down with smallpox, a dreaded disease that was killing more than 400,000 people annually in Europe alone.Jenner believed that the pus in the cowpox blisters somehow protected the milkmaids from developing smallpox.The gardener’s son, James Phipps, developed a cowpox...

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