Taking Smallpox Vaccination to the World
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Vaccination has been around for some time, but the idea of a global vaccine program such as eradicating polio seems modern. And yet, it isn't. Over two centuries ago, when Edward Jenner invented the vaccine to protect against the deadly smallpox using cowpox, a related virus, Spain wanted to bring the vaccine to its colonies. That sparked a multi-country vaccination effort.

It was a novel idea at a time when people did not understand germ theory or how vaccination worked. First, they needed cowpox which was mostly in England. They were using the virus to activate an immune response to smallpox by taking the pus from the blister of someone infected with cowpox and scratching a healthy person's skin with it. Rather than try to ship infected cows, they decided use 22 orphan boys to be serially infected with cowpox to keep the virus alive during the long voyage to the Americas. In return, the Spanish crown agreed to pay for the boys' care and education until they were grown.

By the time they finished in Cuba, Mexico, its Asian colonies, and its South American colonies such as Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, they had vaccinated between one hundred to one hundred fifty thousand people. This early global public health vaccination campaign saved many lives.

It's a reminder of the value of vaccines and the responsibility of rich nations to help less resourced nations access lifesaving medicines.

For more information…

The First Global Vaccination Expedition Set Sail in 1803
A brave doctor and a group of orphans embarked on a voyage to save the world from smallpox...

CDC: What is Smallpox?
Before smallpox was eradicated, it was a serious infectious disease caused by the variola virus. It was contagious-meaning, it spread from one person to another. People who had smallpox had a fever and a distinctive, progressive skin rash...