Edward Jenner Pioneered Vaccination. Will His Museum Survive a Pandemic?

BERKELEY, England — It has been called the birthplace of modern vaccination.

More than 220 years ago, the residents of an English village lined up outside a small wooden hut to have their arms scratched with a lancet as they were given the first vaccine for smallpox.

The pioneering local doctor administering the vaccine, Edward Jenner, called the modest building in his garden the “Temple of Vaccinia,” and from this place grew a public health movement that would see smallpox declared eradicated globally by 1980.

But a new scourge has left this place — where the gnarled wooden walls of Dr. Jenner’s hut still stand at a museum at the home and garden dedicated to his legacy — shuttered to the public, its future on shaky ground. Even as Dr. Jenner’s work was cited time and again as the world raced toward a coronavirus vaccine, the museum at his former home has struggled to survive.

“I think the issue has been an underfunding of museums for many, many years in this country,” said Owen Gower, the manager of Dr. Jenner’s House, Museum and Garden. “Covid has really shone a light on those problems, as it has with so many different issues.”

built upon a technique called variolation that was practiced in Africa and Asia for centuries, and his approach also leaned on local knowledge. His vaccine used samples of the milder disease cowpox — as it was long known in his rural community that women who were exposed to that illness in dairies were immune to smallpox.

nations scramble for limited vaccine supplies and anti-vaccine campaigns take root, the story behind how we got here is more important than ever.

“He did remarkable things — and the number of lives saved and changed as a result of vaccination — it all started here,” Mr. Gower said. “But I think it’s also the idea that it’s not just something of the past, it’s something that is ongoing.”

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