Is it fair to judge Dr. Jenner for his vaccination experiments, because of how patients did not know the risks?

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  • 8 years ago
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    Back in Jenner's time there were no IRBs (Instutional Review Boards) and more importantly, no malpractice lawyers. No "Call 1-800 GETRICH" ads. But Jenner did study the effects of cowpox on milkmaids, and reasoned that they acquired an immunity to smallpox as a result of the mild infection they got.

    It was obvious that Jenner's vaccination process was much safer than getting smallpox. It was also safer than variolation, a practice that carried significant morbidity and mortality, but still much less than smallpox.

    Flash forward to the 20th century where Albert Sabin had difficulty obtaining permission for trials of his live virus polio vaccine on humans in the United States. He went to Russia. The varicella vaccine (against chickenpox) was used in Japan for almost 20 years before it was approved for general use in the US.

    FDA regulations are a blessing and a curse.

    Back to your question: Smallpox was a terrible scourge in the 18th century. Best estimates I can find are that it killed 250 - 500K people annually all across Europe, horribly disfiguring many more. It was widespread in Asia, too. Ditto for the American colonies where epidemics occurred every few years. So people in Jenner's time simply weren't concerned with the risks that vaccination incurred, just the benefits.

  • 8 years ago

    It isn't fair to judge him at all considering he did nothing wrong even by today's standards.

    When people are told the story of his challenging the boy with smallpox, they are never told that's the actual treatment.

    Before vaccination, variolation was done. This was the practice of purposefully infecting someone with smallpox in the arm. An infection this way was far less lethal than the normal route.

    The boy was going to be variolated anyway. Jenner simply vaccinated him first.

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