The word ‘vaccine’ is on the tip of everyone’s tongue today, but did you know that the word originally came from the Latin word vacca, or more common to us, the French word vache, meaning cow?

It was so named after the first successful vaccine was developed from cowpox as a treatment for smallpox. This was the first scientific demonstration that giving a person one virus could protect them against another  more dangerous one.

Towards the end of the 18th century, English physician Edward Jenner (and later Louis Pasteur) discovered that milkmaids contracting cowpox (ulcers on cows’ teats which could spread to humans via scratches or open wounds) never seemed to catch the common and more serious smallpox.

He used matter from a milkmaid’s cowpox sores and pustules (Yes, I know. Yeuch!) to inoculate a child, who then showed immunity to smallpox.

The word vaccine was originally used to describe this particular inoculation, but soon spread to cover inoculations in general.

Edward Jenner and the vaccine

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