Happy 4th of July from DI&I
July 3, 2018
George Washington contracted smallpox when he was 19 years old. Although he nearly succumbed to the disease, he survived with pockmark scars and life-long immunity. (1) He and other founders recognized the severity of smallpox and its threat to their independence and took all measures at their disposal to contain its contagion. In 1777 Washington ordered the inoculation of all men in the Continental Army against smallpox. According to Leibowitz, “In 1798, Edward Jenner realized that cowpox, a harmless relative of smallpox, offered protection against smallpox and developed the first vaccination. In 1800 when Boston physician Benjamin Waterhouse introduced the cowpox vaccine to America, the success of Washington’s inoculation campaign of 1777 encouraged Americans to accept Jenner’s safer version. Thomas Jefferson, the harsh critic of modern medicine in 1799, would now, as the third President of the United States, praise Jenner and Waterhouse for their contributions to modern society.”(2)
Every era has it scourges that threaten the populace. At the turn of the 20th century, public health initiatives for sanitation curtailed infectious diseases. Current epidemics include opioid addiction, mass shootings, and increased vector-borne diseases. Smallpox is history based on the courage and conviction of Washington and Jenner. Despite its imperfections, we live in a glorious country. As we celebrate Independence Day, regardless of your political leanings, let us rekindle efforts to work together for a better tomorrow.
DI&I wishes America a happy 242nd birthday and a spectacular 4th of July to you and your family!
Warren R. Heymann, MD
1. Drew BA. George Washington and Smallpox: A revolutionary hero and public health activist. JAMA Dermatology 2015; 151: 706.
2. Leibowitz D. Smallpox vaccination: An early start of modern medicine in America. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perpsect 2017; 7: 61-3.
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