If you find yourself visited by the smallpox fairy you’re gonna spend a day or two with body aches, fever, and a wee bit of vomiting. Over the next four days, red spots are going to start breaking out on your mouth and tongue. The spots will swell until they burst, followed by the rest of your body breaking out in pustulating lesions. Don’t worry. It only hurts a lot. The sores that now cover most of your body will turn into firm, painful, cysts. After five days of dealing with that, the pus sacks will start to scab over and flake off. By the end of four weeks, you will either be dead or covered in crater-like scars where the pustules have subsided. You’re probably going to look like Edward James Olmos had a baby with the elephant man, then that baby was badly disfigured in a house fire and doctors scraped all the dead skin off with a cheese grater. Three out of ten people who contract smallpox die, unless you are sick, young, or elderly, in which case your chance of survival drops to approximately jack shit.
Archeologist found smallpox scars on the 3,000 year old mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V. Smallpox followed trade routes from Egypt to Asia and India. Europeans picked up smallpox in the Middle East during the crusades and brought it back to Europe. Explorers and slave traders brought smallpox to the Americas, where it killed pretty much every-goddamn-body it touched. The important thing to take away from all that is: Smallpox sucks, and it was just a fact of life that until 1980 you were probably going to be affected by it.
As early as 1,000 A.D. the Chinese noticed that people who contracted smallpox didn’t get it again. Through what I assume was some pretty rough trial and error, they developed a way to get people sick with smallpox, but not enough to do too much harm. They would take aged, dried, smallpox scabs and grind them into a fine powder. Then the powder would be blown into a person’s nose. The patient’s body would encounter the virus in a weakened form and fight it off. Afterward, the body would recognize the smallpox virus if it encountered it again and be equipped to defend itself.
This process was called variolation. The Latin term for Smallpox is Variola.
Later, variolation would become “inoculation.” The Latin word for “eye” is “oculus.” When farmers would graft buds of plants on to another it would look like an eye. The concept of “grafting” diseases in people to make them stronger was called inoculation.
Roman infantry were known as “milites,” which is where we get the word “Military.” This comes from the root word “munus,” which means “duty.” If you had a special skill or were rich, you were considered one of the “immunes,” which meant your job description didn’t involve being stabbed. So people going into a battle would be all like, "Hey Bob, are you going to die today?" and he'd be like, "No. I'm an immune." Over time, the word "immune" became synonymous with "You're not going to die."
As variolation spread, the practice was improved upon. Particularly by people from Circassia, who took the process a little bit further. They would take fluid from pustules on an infected person and prick it into the skin of a healthy person… (That sounds gross and counterproductive, but pus is the body’s way of clearing out all the dead soldiers from the battlefield. It’s dead bacteria, white blood cells, and shit like that. So, despite being grosser than a fecal transplant, pus is the place where the infection has lost the war. Let’s take a second and marinate on this. Smallpox was so goddamn awful that people were willing to have stranger’s plague pus injected into them if it meant they could avoid catching full-blown smallpox.)
In a time when having a scarred face from smallpox was as common as acne scars, Circassian women were highly sought after by Sultans for their harems because of their non-pocked skin. That’s a polite way of saying Circassian chicks got traded like Pokemon cards whose special skill was "sex slave" by crazy rich Arabs, thanks to them having nice skin since they were lucky enough to be inoculated against smallpox. In 1717 lady Mary Wortley Montague was living in Constantinople (Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. Why they changed it I can’t say. People just liked it better that way), thanks to her husband being appointed an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Mary survived smallpox as a child and was left bearing the scars. She noticed all the harem chicks didn’t have scars; in fact, most people in Constantinople didn’t. Then she discovered when someone came down with smallpox the old ladies in town would throw inoculation parties and get all the kid’s “shots” up to date. When Mary found out they were moving back to England, she had her daughter inoculated against smallpox. Then, back in England, she had the same treatment done to her son during an outbreak. She invited the King’s physician to watch the process to prove it worked in hopes that other lives could be saved.
Unfortunately, Mary was a woman and she learned about inoculation from Muslims, so, for the most part, people were like, “Ah, what the fuck do you know,” and went back to dying horrible deaths. King George II’s wife Caroline was intrigued, though. She offered six death row inmates the opportunity to be inoculated. If they lived, they got to go free. They lived. Then, Caroline’s doctor tested the procedure out on a bunch of orphans. They lived too. After rich people were on board, inoculation gained popularity. Granted, it was pretty hit and miss, based on geography, whether or not people “believed” in inoculation. In places where people realize them shits worked; it was common for infected people to sell their scabs. They called it “Buying the pox.”
During the 1721 smallpox outbreak, a minister in Boston named Cotton Mather heard about inoculation from his slave Onesimus, who had the procedure done on him as a child. (Cotton is famous for being one of the shitbags responsible for the Salem Witch Trials.) Cotton was trading notes with a doctor named Zabdiel Boylston, who also heard about inoculation from his slaves. They tried it, and during the outbreak, out of the nearly 300 people Boylston inoculated, 2% of them died, compared to the 15% mortality rate among everyone else. It would have been a slam dunk for science but people thought inoculation was defying God’s will. They also thought some doctor giving smallpox to people was the cause of the outbreak, which, as far as historical mob hysteria goes… wasn’t completely unreasonable. Mathers and Boylston both faced intense backlash. One angry citizen threw an improvised grenade through Mather’s window with a note wrapped around it reading, “Cotton Mather, you dog, dam you! I’ll inoculate you with this; with a pox to you.’’ Thankfully for him, the fuse went out when the bomb hit the floor.
Inoculation faced a lot of push back. In 1776 the newly formed Continental Congress banned mass inoculation for the army. In 1777 George Washington got tired of watching more of his men die from disease than actual war so he said, “fuck it,” and ordered every one of his men to be inoculated. Not only did it work, but now that his men were not only not-dead, but they also weren’t sick, so they could all fight.
Benjamin Franklin was skeptical of inoculation, he argued against it; until his son died from smallpox. He had this to say about the matter;
“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”
Fast forward to 1798. Smallpox and cowpox are so similar that if a human is exposed to cowpox, the immune response will be able to defend against smallpox. Country doctors had been aware for a while that milkmaids would get nasty ass hand blisters from cowpox infected udders. Coincidentally, milkmaids were famous for not being pockmarked all to shit from smallpox. If the internet had existed in 1800, milkmaid porn would have been at the top of everyone’s search history for that reason.
Edward Jennar heard a milkmaid brag about how she would never get smallpox because she contracted cowpox while milking a sick cow…That’s how the story goes. The true story is that Edward’s mentor George Harwicke, was well aware of the small/cow pox connection and taught his pupil. Since cowpox is pretty tame and not lethal, this was a much safer way to inoculate against smallpox, which was killing about 400,000 people a year in Europe. After a few rounds of good old-fashioned human testing, Jennar published his findings and was promptly ignored and laughed at. So, he published a trilogy of books titled:
An Inquiry Into the Causes and Effects of the Variole Vaccine, or Cow–Pox 
Further Observations On the Variola Vaccinae, or Cow–Pox 
A Continuation of Facts and Observations Relative to the Various Vaccines, or Cow–Pox 
The Latin word for cow is “vacca.” The Latin term for cowpox is “vacciniae.” In his book Jennar called the process of using cowpox to inoculate against smallpox “vaccination.” He sent samples of his vaccine to anyone who would take it. Newspapers mocked Jennar by printing cartoons of people being vaccinated and having cows sprout out of their bodies. Eventually, doctors picked up Jennar’s baton and ran with it.
Thomas Jefferson knew the benefits of inoculation thanks to George Washington. When he heard about Jennar’s vaccine, he had his entire extended family and everyone at his estate vaccinated (about 200 people). He even sent a few vials with Meriwether Lewis of the hip-hop duo "Lewis and Clark" when they went to explore the Louisiana Purchase that doubled the size of the United States in 1803.
During the 1860’s, French Scientist Louis Pasteur was doing some groundbreaking research into what he would call germ theory. Knowing what the fuck was actually going on when people got sick opened some amazing doors in the field of making people un-sick, or even better, not sick in the first place. Pasteur was trying to get chickens inoculated to Chicken Cholera by cultivating Cholera bacteria and killing a shitload of chickens. He went on vacation and when he got back his bacteria stash was pretty much dead. He gave it to the chickens anyway and they fought off the infection. After that they were immune. Pasteur said, “Fuck them chickens,” and used the discovery to work on an anthrax and rabies vaccine instead.
Spanish doctor Jaime Ferrán Clúa was a big fan of Pasteur, who took the cholera research and developed a vaccine.
What all this led up to was the discovery that you could take a weakened version of a disease and give it to someone so their body could fight it off and develop a natural defense to it. That’s it. That’s all vaccines are. It’s not some mysterious vial of chemicals. Any ingredient other than a half-dead pathogen that is in vaccines are just preservatives that have been added so it will still work by the time it gets to you.
Over the next 200 years vaccines were developed for: Tetanus, typhoid fever, bubonic plague, tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, whooping cough, yellow fever, typhus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, meningitis, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, rotavirus, HPV, Ebola, dengue fever, and more. That is a big ass list of diseases you really don’t want to have, and that you don’t have to anymore.
Stay tuned for next time when I will be examining the anti-vaccination movement, which started a long time before Jenny McCarthy.