Campaign to reinstate Edward Jenner onto 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square
Press release issued: 26 March 2010
To mark the 30th anniversary of the eradication of smallpox (8 May 2010), the British Medical Journal (BMJ) is backing the campaign to reinstate the statue of Edward Jenner onto the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.
Edward Jenner is widely known for developing a vaccine against smallpox in 1796. His statue, originally erected in London’s Trafalgar Square, was unveiled in 1858 by Prince Albert. Four years later it was moved to Kensington Gardens, where it remains.
In an editorial in this week’s BMJ, Professor Gareth Williams from the University of Bristol explains how Jenner tested and proved his theory that infection with cowpox gave immunity to smallpox, which eventually led to its eradication.
Williams believes that Jenner’s statue deserves to be reinstated alongside the other Trafalgar Square heroes “for his role in the defeat of an enemy of all mankind ... which killed far more people than all human wars combined”.
Williams urges people to sign a petition to persuade the Government to restore Jenner’s statue to its original and rightful place alongside the other heroes of Trafalgar Square. The petition was initiated by the Edward Jenner Museum.
In the 18th century, smallpox was greatly feared. It attacked one person in three and killed one in 12. Even in the 20th century, it killed 300 million people world-wide and survivors were often left severely scarred or blinded.
Williams describes how “worldwide admiration for Jenner flooded in” but that back in England Jenner faced “concerted opposition” from anti-vaccinationists.
“Leading doctors, jealous or dismissive of the provincial surgeon, set out to undermine vaccination,” writes Williams, while churchmen, “appalled by people being infected with ‘bestial’ pus, bent Biblical texts to prove that vaccination was the Devil’s invention”.
But Jenner’s opponents had little to offer as an alternative and “ultimately, vaccination was the decisive weapon that eradicated smallpox in 1978, nearly 180 years after Jenner voiced his aspiration that his invention would achieve that aim,” says Williams.
In December 1979, the World Health Organisation accepted that smallpox eradication had been achieved throughout the world and that there was no evidence that smallpox would return as an endemic disease.
The Final Report of the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication, published on 8 May 1980, formally confirmed that smallpox had been eradicated forever.
In defeating smallpox, Jenner also opened the door for immunisation against many other infections. Since then, vaccination has proved to be one of medicine’s most transferable technologies.
Professor Williams’ book, Angel of Death, on the history and eradication of smallpox will be published on 21 May.
A BBC documentary, ‘Dr Jenner’s Miraculous Medicine’, presented by Professor Mark Horton, also of the University of Bristol, will be shown around the same time.