New Teaching Resource: Edward Jenner and the Smallpox vaccine

Edward Jenner

New Teaching Resource: Edward Jenner and the Smallpox vaccine

We have just published a set of activities on Edward Jenner and the circumstances surrounding the discovery and early use of the Smallpox vaccine. With the disease now eradicated it is easy to presume that the vaccine was a universal success from day one. Such an achievement would surely have had people besides themselves to have the injection. The truth is rather different.

The lesson,Edward Jenner: Vaccinations and the prevention of smallpox, explores a number of issues. Jenner wasn’t a scientist. Just a humble doctor. So how did he of all people, come to make this massive breakthrough? The lesson provides an overview of the things that led him to try what became vaccination. The influences and the circumstances that led to that first application of the cure.

The lesson then considers these. What did lead to his breakthrough? Was one causal factor more important than others? A simple but effective discussion and sorting task engages learners in evaluation of these.

As suggested in the first paragraph, Jenner found himself faced with opposition. Vaccination was a revolutionary concept to most in the western world: inoculation, however, had been practised elsewhere for centuries. Learners are asked to consider the circumstances of the day. Weird and wonderful potions and ideas were commonplace. More often than not, they achieved very little. Sometimes, they caused additional problems. Sometimes, they killed. With that as the norm, how would you react to being asked to have something that is already ‘diseased’ injected into you? Worse than that, it’s something from farm animals that are hardly known for being the cleanest of creatures.

The anti-vaccination campaigns, and indeed the achievements of Jenner, are too complex for one lesson. For the opposition to vaccination the lesson draws on a famous piece of artwork. The learner accesses it through an effective source analysis grid.

There are lots of ways to compare opposition to Jenner’s vaccine with other medical situations. In recent years there was concern among parents about the MMR vaccine. Medical mistakes such as the use of Thalidomide on expectant mothers is an example of a medical malpractice that engenders doubts.

The lesson is an overview. Aimed at middle ability GCSE students it is easy to adapt.

Link to lesson: Edward Jenner: Vaccinations and Smallpox

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