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Monday 28 September 2020

Spot the Frippet: vaccine.

 No, I'm afraid a vaccine for the wretched Covid-19 is still over the horizon - but still, it's good to know that there are a lot of very clever people out there looking for it. Keep it up, folks.

And at least the word vaccine has an interesting derivation.

portrait by Pikaluk

Spot the Frippet: vaccine. This word came into use in the late 1700s and comes from the Latin variolae vaccinae, literally smallpox of the cow, which is the disease more commonly called cowpox. Inquiry into the Variolae Vaccinae Known as the Cow Pox is the title of a 1798 medical treatise by Edward Jenner. The Latin vacca means cow.

It had long been observed that people who milked cows didn't get the often fatal and often disfiguring disease smallpox, which in the eighteenth century killed ten per cent of the population of England. 

Other people before Jenner had used the pus from cow pox victims to prevent smallpox, but what Jenner did which was new was to prove the vaccination worked.

Unfortunately, the way he did it was rather appalling. He vaccinated James Phipps, the eight-year-old son of his gardener, with cow pox pus. Then, six weeks later, Jenner injected the poor boy with smallpox. 

The boy survived, fortunately. In fact he was injected with smallpox twenty more times. At least he was later given for free the lease of the house in which he lived with his wife and children. 

He doesn't seem to have borne a grudge, bless him, because he went to Jenner's funeral.

Jenner is feted as the man who has saved more human lives than any other person.

So that's good, isn't it.

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