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Theme: Christians believe that God has provided answers within all creation – today’s example: medicine

Key words/themes: Solving a problem, Doing something to be proud of, Setting and achieving goals

Introduction: A look at some of the ways we use plants: expressions of love (i.e. a rose), material for clothes such as cotton, food, drink, create colours, and for medicines. So many things in our world are so useful, but it takes time and skill to find out just how useful they can be.

Main Content

It is reckoned that a man, Edward Jenner, was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire on 17th May 1749, is responsible for saving of more human lives than the work of any other person.

Was he a soldier? A politician? No, neither. He was a doctor. Edward may well have been a Christian since he was the eighth of the nine children born to the vicar of Berkeley, the Reverend Stephen Jenner, and his wife Sarah. However, life was not all easy for Edward. By the time he was five years old both of his parents had died and he was left in the care of his older sister. At the young age of 14 Edward he went to live with a Mr Daniel Ludlow who a surgeon. It was here that Edward gained most of the experience needed to become a surgeon himself.

A short play about the life of Edward Jenner.

  • Characters – Edward Jenner (age 21 upwards) – a top hat, stethoscope
  • Sarah Nelmes (dairy maid) – a scarf over her head and a bucket
  • Cow called Blossom (!) – cow horns?
  • James Phipps (a young boy) – cloth cap
  • Napoleon – Napolionic style hat (?)
  • Modern day newscaster – labelled
  • Small pox virus! – labelled

Line these characters up with their props or labels. – and tell the story. In 1770 at the age of 21, he moved to St. George's Hospital in London, to complete his medical training under the great surgeon and experimentalist John Hunter. Hunter quickly recognised Edward's abilities at dissection and investigation, as well as his understanding of plant and animal.

The two men were to remain lifelong friends and correspondents. In 1772 at the age of 23 Edward Jenner returned to Berkeley and established himself as the local practitioner and surgeon. Although in later years he established medical practices in London and Cheltenham, Jenner remained essentially a resident of Berkeley. Smallpox effected every one – every family lived in fear of catching this deadly disease. It did not matter whether you were a king, queens or emperors – or even a common farm helper. Many well known people had suffered, including Elizabeth I, Mozart, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – they had all experienced its terror. If it didn't kill you, your skin was covered in scarred.

In May 1796 in the village where Edward worked as a doctor, a dairymaid called Sarah Nelmes, went to Edward to ask about a rash on her hand. He diagnosed cowpox rather than smallpox and Sarah confirmed that one of her cows, a Gloucester cow called Blossom, had recently had cowpox.

Edward Jenner realised that this was his opportunity to test the protective properties of cowpox by giving it to someone who had not yet suffered smallpox. He chose James Phipps, the eight-year old son of his gardener. On 14th May he made a few scratches on one of James' arms and rubbed into them some material from one of the sores of Sarah's rash. A few days later James became mildly ill with cowpox but was well again a week later.

So Jenner knew that cowpox could pass from person to person as well as from cow to person.

The next step was to test whether the cowpox would now protect James from smallpox. On 1st July Jenner actually gave the boy smallpox in the same way. As Jenner anticipated, and undoubtedly to his great relief, James did not develop smallpox, either on this occasion or on the many subsequent ones when his immunity was tested again.

In 1801 Edward Jenner issued a pamphlet which ended with these prophetic words: '... the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice'. It was to take nearly 180 years to fulfil this prediction.

Edward Jenner spent much of the rest of his life supplying cowpox material to others around the world and discussing related scientific matters. He was so involved in corresponding about smallpox that he called himself 'the Vaccine Clerk to the World'. He quickly developed techniques for taking matter from human cowpox pocks and drying it onto threads or glass so that it could be widely transported. In recognition of his work and as a recompense for the time it took him away from his general practice the British Government gave him a an important award. The idea of injecting material under the skin to produce protection against disease became universally known as vaccination, a word derived from the Latin name for the cow (vacca), in Jenner's honour.

Edward’s fame even led to him seeking favours from Napoleon during the war between Britain and France. He successfully negotiated the release of a number of important British prisoners-of-war.

Napoleon is reported to have said "Ah, Jenner, I can refuse him nothing".

Edward Jenner became world famous following his publication in 1798 in which he explained that vaccination with cowpox prevented the deadly smallpox.

However, it was not until 1980 that the World Health Organisation finally declared that "Smallpox is Dead!" The most feared disease of all time no longer existed – proving that Edward Jenner was right way back in 1801.

Pupils' response

Prayer: God has put answers in our world. God has put a lot of things in our word for us to use – it’s up to us to use them wisely and correctly.