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George Washington and Variolation; Edward Jenner and Vaccination

Rafael Rabasa, MD
JAMA. 1986;255(14):1881. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370140079022.
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To the Editor.—  In the Aug 23/30, 1985, issue of The Journal, an advertisement with the heading "Army Medicine Has Been Winning Battles for Two Centuries"1 states that General George Washington ordered smallpox inoculation of the Continental Army in 1777. This statement is not true. In 1777, there was no smallpox vaccine available. In May 1796, Edward Jenner found a young dairymaid, Sarah Nelmes, with fresh cowpox lesions on her fingers. On May 14, using matter from Sarah's lesions, he inoculated an 8-year-old boy, James Phipps. On July 1, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with smallpox matter, protection was complete, and no disease developed.General George Washington could not have possibly ordered the smallpox inoculation 19 years before the discovery of the vaccine.


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