On our last tour, we passed through the beautiful Kensington Gardens and learned a little more about Edward Jenner. Like John Snow, Jenner formulated and acted on his hypothesis made from general observations of people who did and did not contract illnesses: since milk maids did not get smallpox as often as the general population, the exposure to cowpox must be the agent rendering them immune to smallpox. To prove his theory, he did something that was unprecedented- he inoculated a young boy with smallpox.
Fortunately, the eight year old child, along with hundreds of other children who were inoculated, only saw the mild consequences of small pox and most of them became immune soon thereafter.
Another character in the story of epidemiology was Sir Alexander Fleming. He too made a monumental contribution to the study of disease and determinants with his bacteria mold. Like Jenner, the success of his experiment was somewhat random and just plain lucky. He forgot to close a window in his lab and Jenner's inoculation happened to be mild enough not to kill the young boy. In addition, Fleming wanted to use his new penicillin drug on a poor and dying man who had a serious fever and dehydration. Even though it worked to reduce the effects of the man's illness, his disease was too far along and the penicillin dosage was too low.
It is true that Jenner and Fleming made significant contributions to epidemiology and medicine- no matter how unorthodox their methods were. However, they also contributed to medical ethics and the debate regarding vulnerable populations being used to test and develop new medicines. Children and elderly individuals lack a strong voice within almost every society, especially that of America, and Great Britain is no different. While these two ground breaking epidemiologists capitalized on this fact, it's important to take note of their mistakes and not repeat them. Medical developments should not have to come at the expense of someone else's voice or rights. So I thank Edward Jenner and Alexander Fleming for giving us another aspect of bioethics to consider as we tackle new public health and medical challenges in the future.