Smallpox the First: a human triumph!


Lady Mary Wortley Montague (1689–1762)

Source: Reidel 2005, Photo courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Smallpox the First

Did you hear the good news? Smallpox is dead!  The smallpox virus was murderous.  It killed more people than war.  In the 20th century alone, smallpox killed between 300 million (300,000,000 or 3*10^8) and half a billion (500,000,000 or 5*10^8) people.  The first disease conquered by humans: How did we vanquish this angel of death?

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What’s a vaccine to you?


A vaccine against ignorance?  “Humanity certainly needs to be immunized with a vaccine for ignorance, and we propose that that vaccine is education. But education would have to be coupled to restrictions on people, agencies, and corporations determined to follow the profit motive, and in so doing, undermine the intelligence of the populace.”

Vaccines have been so good at preventing disease, that the above article uses ‘vaccine’ metaphorically to describe prevention of ignorance.  And has been used to describe other preventive interventions: what would you like a vaccine for?  Something to stop what you don’t want.  I would like a vaccine to be more kind and less mean; to love.  Sadly, we have not yet discovered that.  But education and changing the economic system could help.

The picture above uses shapes, sizes, and colours to show different bugs; and the hand as defence that stops them. Vaccines stop harmful bugs by preparing our defences. A vaccine does not protect against bugs in general, only the specific bug that it targets. It does this by ‘looking like’ the bug to our immune system.

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