Finding the Comedy in Cow Pox?

The Cow Pock, or, The wonderful effects of the new inoculation, is a colorful print of an etching created by artist James Gillray in 1802. It is part of NLM’s Prints and Photographs collection.

In a crowded room, English physician Edward Jenner prepares to vaccinate a young woman sitting in a chair; the scene about them is bedlam, as several former patients show the effects of the vaccine, cows sprouting from various parts of their bodies. (Centuries later, the smallpox vaccine would be deemed the most successful vaccine in history.) A key development in the eradication of the deadly disease occurred when Jenner observed that milkmaids who developed cowpox, a less serious disease, did not develop smallpox. Jenner took fluid from the hand of a milkmaid infected with cowpox and, with it, inoculated an eight-year-old boy. Six weeks later, Jenner exposed the boy to smallpox; he did not develop any symptoms. Jenner coined the term “vaccine” from “vaca,” meaning “cow” in Latin. Thanks to the development of the smallpox vaccine, the disease was officially eradicated in 1979. 

For more on the eradication of smallpox, go to the Web site of the NLM exhibition, Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health. This lively interactive exhibition will be on display at NLM through 2010. A banner exhibition based on the larger show is traveling to sites across the US and at selected international venues.