The histories of pediatrics and vaccinology are linked, for most primary attempts at vaccinating against smallpox during the 18th century involved children. Today, of course, vaccinations form a universal and essential part of preventative medicine for the very young. Commonly hailed as a “discovery” or a “medical breakthrough,” the first vaccinations against smallpox with cowpox were really a development from variolation (inoculation with smallpox itself), a technique popularized among the English gentry as “The Inoculation” in the early 1700s by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The later introduction of cowpox avoided potential hazards of variolation, which sometimes resulted in death or the transmission of smallpox into areas where it was previously absent.

The story that Dr Edward Jenner was the first to vaccinate in 1796 is one of the best-known medical myths,1,2 yet this misinformation is still presented in the media and most popular history books. Jenner was...

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