As history tells it, young Edward Jenner heard a milkmaid brag that having cowpox made her immune to smallpox. And years later, as a doctor, he drew matter from a cowpox pustule on the arm of a milkmaid to vaccinate a young test subject (depicted in the drawing above). A researcher now weighs in on the veracity of the milkmaid stories.

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Dr. Donald A. Henderson, a leader of one of mankind’s greatest public health triumphs, the eradication of smallpox, died on Friday in Towson, Md. He was 87. Long after the disease was officially declared eradicated in 1980, he remained in the field as a dean of what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and as an adviser on bioterrorism to several presidents

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Research involving human subjects is littered with a history of scandal that often shapes people’s views of the ethics of research. Often the earliest cited case is English physician Edward Jenner’s development of the smallpox vaccine in 1796, where he injected an eight-year-old child with the pus taken from a cowpox infection and then deliberately exposed her to an infected carrier of smallpox

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