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June 19, 1996

Preventive Medicine and Public Health

Author Affiliations

The Carter Center, Atlanta, Ga

JAMA. 1996;275(23):1846-1847. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530470074044

It has not been just another year in public health. As public health enters its third century, we celebrate milestones of great importance; at the same time, stories are unfolding on emerging infections, tobacco, and children in war that will alter the future.

On May 14,1796, Edward Jenner transferred material from a cowpox lesion on the hand of Sarah Nelms to the arm of James Phipps.1 What possessed him? He was motivated by the writings of poets who extolled the pock-free complexions of milkmaids as well as by a decade of observing what happened to milkmaids during smallpox outbreaks. Despite his confidence in the protection offered by cowpox, it is hard to imagine his emotions when he deliberately exposed the boy to smallpox and found him to be immune. Thus began the history of public health, the idea of disease eradication, and the vaccine era.

The first complete victory