Immunisation In Our Time

By cjohnson | April 20, 2006 6:17 pm

On the BBC Radio 4 programme “In Our Time” this week, there was an excellent program on the history of immunisation. For about a week you can get the link to the programme here. Beyond that, dig into their archives, here. I thought the discussion on this programme was just excellent (once again….see their archives for other great ones, some of which I’ve blogged about here before), with host Melvin Bragg talking with guests, Nadja Durbach, Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah, Chris Dye, Co-ordinator of the World Health Organisation’s work on tuberculosis epidemiology, and Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Lecturer in the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. Here is the blurb on the programme from the website:


In 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, wrote a letter to her friend describing how she had witnessed the practice of smallpox inoculation in Constantinople. This involved the transfer of material from a smallpox postule into multiple cuts made in a vein. Lady Montagu had lost her brother to smallpox and was amazed that the Middle Eastern practice of inoculation rendered the fatal disease harmless. In Britain, the practice was unknown.

Inoculation was an early attempt at creating immunity to disease, but was later dismissed when Edward Jenner pioneered immunisation through vaccination in 1796. Vaccination was hailed a huge success. Napoleon described it as the greatest gift to mankind, but it met unexpected opposition after it was made compulsory in Britain in 1853.

How did a Gloucestershire country surgeon become known as the father of vaccination? Why did the British government introduce compulsory smallpox vaccination in 1853? What were the consequences of those who opposed it? And how was the disease finally eradicated?

This is an excellent programme. Have a listen. Go on……



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