View all news

The greatest ever coup in the history of preventative medicine

The Chantry, Berkeley. The residence of Edward Jenner from 1785 until his death in 1823.

The Chantry, Berkeley. The residence of Edward Jenner from 1785 until his death in 1823.

23 July 2011

In a special issue of one of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet, Gareth Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University of Bristol, tells the story behind the greatest ever coup in the history of preventative medicine — the eradication of smallpox.

In a special issue of one of the world's leading medical journals, The Lancet, Gareth Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University, tells the story behind the greatest ever coup in the history of preventative medicine — the eradication of smallpox.

The article, which forms part of an issue devoted to vaccination and is published today [23 July] explores the story of doctor and polymath, Edward Jenner, who successfully defeated smallpox, a disease once so feared it was known as the ‘angel of death’. The disease killed millions of people throughout history until, thirty years ago, it became the first – and, so far, only – disease to be eradicated from the planet.

Professor Williams offers glimpses into Jenner’s life through his residence, The Chantry in Gloucestershire, now a museum dedicated to his pioneering work, where on 14 May 1796 he performed the first properly recorded vaccination, on his gardener’s eight-year-old son.  

Professor Williams said: “The story behind the process that culminated in a triumph of translational medicine on a truly global scale is fascinating for anyone interested in medicine or history, or who simply enjoys being moved by a powerful story of triumph over adversity. Dr Jenner drove vaccination into mainstream medical practice, and is, to date, the only successful campaign by mankind to wipe out an infection.” 

Gareth Williams is Professor of Medicine at the University of Bristol and Chair of The Jenner Trust. He is also author of the Angel of Death: the story of smallpox, shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2010 (all proceeds to Dr. Jenner’s House) (formerly the Edward Jenner Museum) The Chantry, Church Lane, Berkeley, Gloucestershire GL13 9BN.