The History of Smallpox Vaccination

  • James C. Frauenthal
Part of the The UMAP Expository Monograph Series book series (UMAP)


It has apparently been understood since ancient times that smallpox produces its own natural immunity: anyone who survives a case of the disease is immune to subsequent infection. A technique called variolation was used long ago in India and China to produce artificial resistance to smallpox. This technique consisted of innoculating a susceptible individual with variola virus taken from a smallpox pustule on an active case. If successful, the result of variolation was a very mild case which left the innoculated individual immune. The case of smallpox was usually mild because the ordinary transmission route of the disease through the atmosphere and into the respiratory system of the victim was short-circuited by the direct application of the virus to the skin. If variolation was unsuccessful, the innoculated individual might contract a severe, disfiguring case of smallpox and even die, or might be left with no added immunity from the innoculation. At best, variolation was a risky way to prevent smallpox, but it was the only way.


Eighteenth Century Mild Case Artificial Resistance Bernoulli Model Smallpox Vaccination 
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Copyright information

© Education Development Center, Inc. 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • James C. Frauenthal
    • 1
  1. 1.Applied Mathematics and StatisticsState University of New YorkStony BrookUSA

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