Vaccine Mythology Part 1

Ethical Reflections on Jenner’s Experiments and the Smallpox Injections

In this series of articles, I am going to be examining the mainstream narrative on vaccination which is regarded by many as “the greatest achievement of science” and “a great medical discovery”. Governments and the medical establishment use this narrative to push vaccine mandates which violate a person’s right to freedom of belief and bodily integrity. This is particularly true of the Covid 19 injections where governments attempted to force people to submit to injection on pain of imprisonment or extortion. In reality, the Covid 19 vaccine is not a traditional vaccine but even if it was, then I still would not take it. The history of vaccination is not what we have been taught. In this first post, I am looking at how vaccination was discovered in the context of smallpox in the 1700s.

The World Health Organization assures us that:

Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting you against harmful diseases, before you come into contact with them. It uses your body’s natural defenses to build resistance to specific infections and makes your immune system stronger.

Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.1

Whilst this is the popular view, this is very questionable. We can question whether it is simple because vaccines do not address the root causes of the diseases they are attempting to prevent. We can question whether they are safe because many have suffered adverse reactions. We can question they are effective because they do not appear to prevent the disease. We can question they train and strengthen your immune system or whether they cause damage to it. The belief that our immune system needs to be trained implies that the creator did not do a sufficient job and he needs our help. We can also question whether vaccines actually do contain killed or weakened forms of the virus or bacteria. In the case of smallpox, it is freely admitted that they use a live version of a virus. The first successful mass vaccination against polio was also found to contain live viruses (although unintentionally). This caused the famous “Cutter incident” where thousands were seriously injured because it spread polio. There are also many cases of Covid outbreaks after Covid injections – and many who have received the injections will testify that they have got it after being vaccinated.

How did Vaccination Start?

The UK Government National Archives explains the context in which Edward Jenner is credited for “discovering” and “inventing” vaccination:

Edward Jenner sparked the push for widespread vaccination beginning in the 1790s. Before Jenner, variolation⁠—purposely infecting patients with smallpox in the hope that they would get a weakened form of the disease and acquire immunity⁠—was common practice. However, variolation was risky, sometimes patients died from the procedure. Jenner is credited with making a key discovery that people who got cowpox- a mild virus contracted by those who milked cows- did not get smallpox. To test his theory, Jenner transferred pus from the spots of a woman with cowpox to an incision in the arm of a young boy who subsequently became ill with a mild form of the virus. The boy quickly recovered and then Jenner variolated his patient with smallpox to see if immunity from cowpox would protect him from smallpox. As hoped, his patient did not contract smallpox. When successful, this process⁠—termed vaccination⁠—gave patients immunity to the disease.2

There are many things in that narrative that need to addressed. The true part is the context and the nature of a practice called variolation. This, as per above, was a risk procedure and many died in this process. Jenner attempted to reduce the risk by infecting people with cowpox instead of smallpox. However, to prove his experiment worked, he had to infect a young child with actual smallpox. This raises a lot of ethical questions.

The last sentence above is not true as many vaccinated people did not receive immunity from smallpox (more on that later). It is also muddying the waters to call Jenner’s practice “vaccination” when it was clearly a modified form of variolation. Vaccination (as we have seen) involves injecting someone with a harmless or dead version of the virus but this was not a dead version. Nor was it even the same virus – it was a different virus. Therefore it was incorrect to refer to Jenner’s experiment as vaccination. This practice, however, did pave the way for vaccination.

In another article, the BBC give us a useful summary of the official narrative and how he made his great discovery:

In 1796, he [Jenner] carried out his now famous experiment on eight-year-old James Phipps. Jenner inserted pus taken from a cowpox pustule and inserted it into an incision on the boy’s arm. He was testing his theory, drawn from the folklore of the countryside, that milkmaids who suffered the mild disease of cowpox never contracted smallpox, one of the greatest killers of the period, particularly among children. Jenner subsequently proved that having been inoculated with cowpox Phipps was immune to smallpox. He submitted a paper to the Royal Society in 1797 describing his experiment, but was told that his ideas were too revolutionary and that he needed more proof. Undaunted, Jenner experimented on several other children, including his own 11-month-old son. In 1798, the results were finally published and Jenner coined the word vaccine from the Latin ‘vacca’ for cow.3

I was alarmed to read that “Jenner experimented on several other children” and the most alarming word there is “experiment”. It is also alarming that he used children and put them at risk. In this case, he put them at risk by deliberately exposing them to a disease. They did not have the disease before the injection and, left to nature, may never have got the disease. To put it simply, experimenting on children is unethical and potentially unsafe.

The BBC admit that this experimental was ethically questionable:

Although the experiment worked, by today’s standards it was ethically problematic. “It really wasn’t a clinical trial and the choice of who they vaccinated really makes you uncomfortable,” says Sheila Cruickshank, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester.

Nor did Jenner know the science underlying the discovery. There was no understanding that smallpox was caused by the variola virus, and the functioning of the body’s immune system was still a mystery at the time.

Jenner’s experiments were based on a common practice called variolation. This procedure involved exposing people to a mild form of smallpox to protect them from the full effects of the disease.4

I am glad for the admission that it is ethically problematic but it was not just “by today’s standards”. It is problematic by Biblical standards. If the experiment did not work and it resulted in death then it was a violation of the Ten Commandments – one of which is against murder. Even if this is not the intention, the fact that this risk was taken knowing it to be a possibility made it so.

Ethical Challenges Acknowledged

The BBC and other pro-vaxxers attempt to defend this practice by putting it in context. Andrew George, Vice Chancellor of Bristol University states:

In the 18th century, doctors carried out a procedure known as variolation to protect people from smallpox. This involved exposing people to a small dose of smallpox in order to give them a mild form of the disease, thereby protecting them from the full effects of the disease. It was not a risk-free procedure, and people often died as a result. However, given the terrible mortality of smallpox this was seen to be worthwhile.5

The last sentence “given the terrible mortality of smallpox this was seen to be worthwhile” sounds very familiar. People who defend the Covid injections (alongside other destructive measures like social distancing, lockdowns and masks) use the same argument. When you object that these measures people are being injured or dying after getting the jab they reply: “But more people will die if we don’t vaccinate.” Whether it is about smallpox or Covid 19, their argument is a fallacy: They are not tackling the real cause therefore they are not finding a real cure. They are exhibiting superstitious faith in vaccines as an effortless, magical, miracle cure which it certainly isn’t. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Other pro-vaccination authors defend Jenner’s experiments in different words:

One aspect which remains controversial is the question of the ethics of Jenner’s vaccination of James Phipps. Did Jenner consider that if his hypothesis was wrong James Phipps might die of the smallpox? Would he have carried out this first experiment on his own children or children from the higher social echelons of society? On the other hand, when would a smallpox vaccine have been created and how many people would have died had he not conducted the experiment? The social perspective in those days was rather different to the present, in that any family that had five children would not expect more than three of them to reach young adulthood. Given that variolation was practised commonly on children, Jenner’s experiment on James Phipps was perhaps less ethically outrageous than it seems from our perspective. Nevertheless, his experiment raised eyebrows in the medical establishment and elsewhere, and not just because they doubted the science. No record exists of any views that may have been expressed by James Phipps before or after he was vaccinated by Jenner.6

These are both good questions: “Did Jenner consider that if his hypothesis was wrong James Phipps might die of the smallpox? Would he have carried out this first experiment on his own children or children from the higher social echelons of society?” It was certainly a possibility that James Phipps may die and Jenner had no right to gamble on his life. This author implies that Jenner exploited the poor and that is a valid objection. It appears that Jenner did start experimenting on his own children but whether he continued is a matter of debate. The results of these experiments are another discussion altogether and I have found it difficult to obtain clear-cut information on this. If I find information on this, I will cover this in a later post. The author’s next questions however are based on a faulty assumption: “On the other hand, when would a smallpox vaccine have been created and how many people would have died had he not conducted the experiment?” My response is that society did not need a vaccine at all. They needed to tackle the real cause which a vaccine could not possibly cure. More on that shortly.

Jenner’s experiment was less outrageous than the variolation that was commonly practiced in his day but it was still outrageous in itself. These pro-vax authors are arguing that Jenner’s experiments were sacrificing a few to save many. I do not agree with this ethic even if it did work (it didn’t but more on that later). Science journalist Kiona N. Smith points out that Edward Jenner vaccinated his son and argued:

Young Jenner faced about a 2% chance of dying of smallpox thanks to his variolation. That’s pretty horrifying compared with the safety standards of modern vaccines, but it offered better odds than the 15% to 30% chance of death he’d face if he caught the virus. And life in 18th century Europe made that a very real risk.

Edward Jenner the village physician and man of science had the idea that there might be a less risky way to protect people against smallpox, based on the milkmaids’ seeming immunity. So he did what any reasonable scientist would do when faced with a compelling hypothesis and a need to test it: he infected his gardener’s eight-year-old son with cowpox and took notes. “Informed consent” wasn’t really a big thing in the 18th century, especially if you were poor and your father worked for the scientist in question.7

Smith argues that “life in 18th century Europe made that a very real risk” but why was that so? As we shall see later, life in the 18th century had a lack of hygiene and sanitation. Writing 100 years later, Dr. Walter Hawden describes the conditions:

The period in which he [Jenner] lived was undoubtedly a very filthy period. It was a time when, to take London for instance, the streets were nothing but a mass of cobble stones, the roads were so narrow that the people could almost shake hands across the street, and as for fresh air they scarcely knew anything about it, for locomotion such as we have to-day was unknown. Sanitary arrangements were altogether absent. They obtained their water from conduits and wells in the neighbourhood, Water closets there were none, and no drainage system existed. It was in London especially that small-pox abounded, where bodies were buri ed in Old St. Paul’s Churchyard in Covent Garden only a foot below the soil, and people had to get up in the middle of the night and burn frankincense to keep off the stench; and where those who could afford it had houses on each side of the Fleet river, so that when the wind blew towards the east they lived in the west, and when it blew towards the west they lived in the east. This was the condition of old London, and you cannot be surprised if small-pox was then what Dr. Bond calls a scourge; you cannot be surprised if small-pox has declined since, even after this wonderful discovery of vaccination—(laughter and cheers)—and let us not forget that sanitary improvements began in London as early as 1766, and small-pox began to decline as a consequence before vaccination was invented.8

This doctor observed that small-pox began to decline before the invention of vaccination. The decline was caused by the increase in public sanitation and personal hygiene (I have covered this in more depth in a recent article). On the first point, Isaac Lockhart Peebles, a medical student and a Methodist minister, wrote:

Smallpox was not considered any more dangerous than measles before people were inoculated with smallpox virus, which practice of inoculation was first begun in England in 1721. Before that time, smallpox epidemics, like those of measles, were sometimes severe and again very mild, the severity being due to the wrong use of means and medicines and, too, no attention to sanitation. Patients were kept in heated, unaired rooms, with no sunlight, with heavy coverings, no change of bedding, crowded together in apartments to forty in number and in beds until their skins stuck to one another; they were blistered, bled, given hot drinks, cordials, alcohol and frequently purged severely…9

No wonder smallpox and other diseases were thriving in these conditions. This is why the earlier question from a pro-vaxxer “how many people would have died had he not conducted the experiment” is moot. If Jenner and the medical establishment really wanted to eradicate smallpox, helping to provide sanitation facilities would have been the right place to start. In my article Vaccination or Sanitation I take a closer look at the historical evidence for this. Pro-vaxxers who defend Jenner’s experiments have missed three basic points. First, Jenner did not deal with the cause of the problem. Second, it did not even work. Third, it had adverse effects.

A Centenary Review

100 years after vaccination was introduced, the medical establishment had sufficient time to review the fruits of it. Dr. Walter Hawden wrote the words in 1896:

Since the passing of the [Mandatory Vaccination] Act in 1853 we have had no less than three distinct epidemics. In 1857-9 we had more than 14,000 deaths from smallpox; in the 1863-5 epidemic the deaths had increased to 20,000; and in 1871-2 they totalled up to the tune of 44,800. It might be asked; Did not the population increase? Between the first and second epidemics the population did increase by 7 per cent., but the smallpox deaths increased by 41 per cent. Between the second and third epidemics the population went up by 9 per cent. and the small-pox by 120 per cent. Small-pox is an epidemic disease, and if cow-pox is to do anything as a preventive of small-pox it should prevent an epidemic. It is all very well to say what a splendid protection it is when there is no epidemic about, but the question is: How will it stand when small-pox comes?10

Dr. Alexander Wilder commented on both the lack of efficacy and the lack of safety in 1899:

The lymph of vaccine pustule contains no virtue or quality that will in any way remove the liability to contract small-pox. No one can intelligently deny that it is itself the product of decay of tissue—- that it is produced by the decomposition or retrograde metamorphosis of the tissue of the body. It is but little remove from absolute rottenness. This being the fact, the inserting of such material into the living tissues of another person is culpable act, and nothing less than the contaminating and infecting of the body of that individual with filthy, loathsome, poisonous material. In fact, it will be found by careful observation that whenever vaccinator or corps of vaccinators set out upon vaccinating crusade, there follows very generally number of deaths from erysipelas and other maladies which have been induced by the operation, accompanied by suffering of the most heartrending character.11

Dr. Wilder maintained that vaccination was an act of “contaminating and infecting” the human body with “filthy, loathsome, poisonous material.” That is an emphatic way of saying that it is poisoning a healthy individual. In the case of smallpox vaccines, that is exactly what it was. It is ensuring that someone gets a disease that they might otherwise never actually get. Wilder also observed that a number of deaths or severe injuries follow vaccination.


Jenner played Russian Roulette with the lives of innocent, exploited children in povery. Jenner’s experiments proved to be unsafe, ineffective and unnecessary. It was unsafe because it poisoned people. It was ineffective because it did not work and it was unnecessary because it not address the root cause of the spread – dirt and the lack of sanitation.

Applying Biblical principles to this I will summarise: Jenner’s experiment was a violation of the Biblical commands against murder and injury. In the eyes of my non-religious friends, it was a crime against humanity, a violation of “natural law” and it was completely unethical. Even if Jenner’s gamble paid dividends and proved to be safe and effective, it would still have been unethical. It is God himself that said “Thou Shalt Not Murder” and if that poses a problem for a “scientific enquiry” then their complaint is against GOD. Our “scientific enquries” should be set within the limits that God has set. It was our own fault we, as a society, that disease was running out of control. We furthered the disaster by ignoring the root cause and offering a quack cure. To hide the results of the quack cure, we construct a false narrative. So we cast aside God’s laws on sanitation and hygiene in the first place, then we debate his laws against murder in the second place and then we violate his command against false witness in the third place. If we, as a human race, had not put ourselves in this position then we not have even needed to have this debate over vaccine ethics. The argument that “killing (or injuring) a few to save many” is not acceptable.

I have written on the sanitation question in more depth in my article “Vaccination or Sanitation” for anyone interested in this point. The matters of safety and effectiveness will be the subject of new posts coming soon.


1 Vaccines and immunization: What is vaccination? 30th August 2021

2 National Archives, Victorian Health Reform.

3 BBC History 2014.

4 BBC Future, The chilling experiment which created the first vaccine. 29th September 2020

5 The Conversation: Judging Jenner: was his smallpox experiment really unethical? February 16, 2016

6 Morgan AJ, Parker S. Translational mini-review series on vaccines: The Edward Jenner Museum and the history of vaccination. Clin Exp Immunol. 2007 Mar;147(3):389-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2006.03304.x. PMID: 17302886; PMCID: PMC1810486.

7 Forbes, May 17th 2019, Why Edward Jenner Infected his son With Smallpox.

8 Hawden, J.P., M.D., L.R.C.P., M.R.C.S., L.S.A., ETC, The Case Against Vaccination, VERBATIM REPORT of an address The Case Against Vaccination ( p14

9 Isaac Lockhart Peebles. Unanswerable Facts and Figures on Smallpox and Vaccination, 1923.

10 Hawden, J.P., M.D., L.R.C.P., M.R.C.S., L.S.A., ETC, The Case Against Vaccination, VERBATIM REPORT of an address The Case Against Vaccination ( p14

11 Alexander Wilder MD, The Metaphysical Publishing Company 1999, The Fallacy of Vaccination, p6

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