Bruce Jenner graced the Wheaties box in 1976 after winning gold in the Olympics. Two hundred years earlier, his great-great-great-grandfather, physician Edward Jenner, became celebrated as the inventor of vaccination. Sadly, neither Bruce Jenner nor Edward Jenner are with us today.

Okay, that’s my fake news for this week: Bruce Jenner isn’t related to Edward (as far as I know) but Edward is credited with promoting vaccination and the late Bruce Jenner did win a gold medal.

Origin and Marketing of Vaccines. Here’s the Rub. Cowpox and smallpox are two similar but different diseases. Both cause lesions on the skin resulting in scabs. Cowpox doesn’t kill. Smallpox does.

Edward Jenner occupies an iconic place in medical history. During a time when smallpox was a scourge, killing one-third of those affected, Jenner drew attention when he applied the old-wives’ tale that dairy maids’ exposure to the milder pox, cowpox, granted immunity from the deadlier smallpox. Jenner gained fame because he called his work “science”.

Evidence of smallpox dates back over 10,000 years. Humans observed and found survivors of smallpox never got smallpox again. They were immune. So, the ancient doctors of China, India and Africa used their medical skills and figured out a way to immunize people when an epidemic broke out. They would take a small amount of debris from the scabs of an affected person and scratch it onto the skin of an unaffected person. The viral remnants would cause a milder form of the disease, conferring immunity. Sometimes there were side effects, occasionally fatal. This form of immunization became known as variolation. The procedure actually worked well to prevent illness, especially if the doctor was talented and the steps were followed.

Ancient Chinese doctors would pulverize the dried scabs, mix with powder and insufflate the medicine into the well patient’s nostril; left for girls, right for boys. When applying the medicine (viral remnant) to the skin, Indian doctors would rub the skin with a silk cloth for ten minutes to prepare it, then introduce the medicine to the scratched skin.

Jesty’s Cow. Edward Jenner got the credit, but he was not the first to use a vaccine. Now, understand, vaccine is a sketchy word. It’s a generic that describes a broad spectrum of things, sort of like the word “Kleenex”. The difference between “vaccination” and variolation as practiced by ancient Chinese is negligible and disputable. What is indisputable is that Jenner got historical credit and commercialized the process. His legacy lives on.

Two decades before Jenner, a farmer named Benjamin Jesty believed the old wives’ tale and took his wife and two kids to a neighboring farm, gathered some cowpox pus from some cows’ utters and scratched it into the skin of his family using darning needles. They became immune to smallpox! Jesty didn’t claim the process, didn’t publish “findings” and didn’t travel far and wide promoting his discovery. As most any student of history will realize, credit doesn’t always go where due.

To this day, no one really knows why exposure to one type of virus (cowpox) makes a person immune to a different strain. But our modern procedures haven’t gotten much more sophisticated scientifically, even though the politically elite have certainly gotten much better at promoting and marketing the process. Our measure of success is pretty much the same as that of the eighteenth century farmer: It looks like it works. Or does it?

What a Coincidence! There is a growing faction of doctors, patients and scientists who suspect that what we are seeing is statistical anomaly married to a convenient and marketable theory. Evidence exists that other factors have at least as important a role in providing social wellness and the eradication of illness. Some communities saw a reduction of disease when adopting better public hygiene that surpassed the reduction seen with the use of vaccines.

Any student of logic can ask this question: If vaccines are vital for community health, how is it that the Bubonic Plague or the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 even ended without a vaccine? Even the Ebola Epidemic of 2014 ended, not with a vaccine but with effective public hygiene and public health policies, needles not needed. Statistical analyses even show that the polio epidemic of the 1950s was nearly over before Jonas Salk broke out his first vaccine. Today, nearly all polio cases in the world are caused by the polio vaccine.

Answers. So, the question, are vaccines safe? Logic holds the answer. If vaccines are safe, how is it that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program of the United States Government has paid out over $3.6 billion to Americans injured or killed by vaccines? Is that what you call “safe”?

But are vaccines effective? It’s another case of logic: If vaccines are effective, why did the Centers for Disease Control just announce that this year’s flu vaccine is 47% effective at best and last year’s was only 13% — that’s thirteen percent — effective?

Does that answer your question?


Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit and like us on Facebook.

Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

Leave a comment