Today, 17 May, is the birthday of Edward Jenner. The man who discovered the protective effects of vaccination, and is on the shortlist for the title of individual in history responsible for saving the most lives.
It’s interesting though to look at what he did in terms of today’s values. What he did was based solely on an observation that milkmaids seemed not to get smallpox. On this sole observation he postulated that exposure to cowpox somehow conferred immunity to smallpox.
Based on this theory he first deliberately infected an eight year old boy, James Phipps, with cowpox. After an interval he deliberately, and repeatedly tried to infect young James with smallpox, but failed. Based on this series of one patient he announced to the world, correctly as it turned out, that he had discovered a protection against one of the most virulent diseases of all time.
Can you imagine trying to get a study like that past your ethical committee today. And if you did the experiment anyway can you imagine what the GMC would do to you.