A long line of people are waiting to receive their vaccines. Epidemics have returned multiple times in recent years, claiming thousands of Swedish lives. It is the early nineteenth century, and we are about to carry out a programme of mass vaccination with the aim of eradicating smallpox.
The global population grew slowly during the eighteenth century and smallpox is believed to have been a contributing factor. Estimates suggest that around 60 million Europeans died during that century. British physician Edward Jenner, who treated many patients who were seriously ill with smallpox, got wind of the fact that people who had been infected with cowpox did not get sick with smallpox. An infection with cowpox was far milder. Could it really be that simple? In 1796, Edward Jenner tested his hypothesis on an eight-year-old boy by first infecting him with cowpox, and then six weeks later with smallpox. The boy remained healthy and Edward Jenner’s discovery has been described as one of the greatest triumphs of medical history. It was only in 1980 that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the world to be smallpox-free.