Tag Archives: Smallpox
… inoculated two persons with the matter [cowpox vaccine] of the 24th. & 4. with that of the 26th. the latter has no effect, but the two former shew inflammation & matter. one of them complains of pain under the arm pit, & yesterday was a little feverish … we have considerable hopes he has the true infection … you shall be regularly informed of the progress & success of this business … I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, August 14, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Persistent leaders keep trying until they find something that works.
New England physician Waterhouse (1754-1846), one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, was the first person to test the cowpox vaccine in America, on four of his own children. His effort to enlist President Adams’ support for a public campaign was unsuccessful, but President Jefferson embraced the concept immediately.
This is one of several letters in 1801 where Jefferson wrote about the cowpox vaccine. Numerous attempts to induce immunity by infecting healthy people with the live vaccine had been unsuccessful. In this account, Jefferson reported the first hoped-for response at Monticello, evidence of an slight infection. Immunity to cowpox also protected against the much more deadly smallpox.
Jefferson would later have all of his family and slaves inoculated and circulated the vaccine widely among his Virginia neighbors. Some accounts credit Jefferson with conducting the first mass public health campaign in America.