There is a good reason why vaccination comes from Latin for cow
In mediaeval times, smallpox was the scourge of Europe. Afflicting
prince and pauper alike, it was one of the most common infectious diseases of
the age and accounted for 10–15% of all deaths. Ever wondered why Queen
Elizabeth I painted her face with white lead and vinegar? It was almost
certainly in order to cover up the unsightly blemishes left by an attack of
Even if there was no prospect of finding a cure for smallpox, Edward
Jenner, an English country doctor, managed to save countless lives by
preventing people from catching it in the first place. He did so by creating
the world’s first vaccine.
In the late eighteenth century, Dr. Jenner observed that dairymaids seemed
to be immune to smallpox. He concluded that this was because they had been
infected with cowpox – a much less virulent disease. Discovering that a local
dairymaid had contracted cowpox from a cow called Blossom, he took scrapings
from a cowpox blister on the dairymaid’s hand and scratched them into the skin
of the healthy eight-year-old son of his gardener. The boy appeared to be
protected after being infected with smallpox virus six weeks later. Dr. Jenner
than inoculated his own son with cowpox and found that he, too, was now
evidently immune to smallpox.
Edward Jenner described the treatment he had developed with the Latin
term ‘variolae vaccinae’ (‘smallpox of the cow’). By now, it should be fairly
obvious where the word ‘vaccination’ came from!
Smallpox was the first human infection to be finally eradicated 1979
throughout the world. Thanks to Edward Jenner’s willingness to apply lessons
learned from animal infections to human medicine and to the cow Blossom and her
dairymaid who provided the antigen for the world´s first vaccination.*
For more insights and information
*Main source: Mary Dobson, Disease, the extraordinary stories behind history's
deadliest killers, Metro Books, New York.