You do not need a vaccine for smallpox.

The disease

Smallpox is thought to date back to at least as early as the Egyptian Empire around the 3rdcentury BCE (Before Common Era), based on a smallpox-like rash found on three mummies. The earliest written description of a disease that clearly resembles smallpox appeared in China in the 4th century CE (Common Era). Early written descriptions also appeared in India in the 7th century and in Asia Minor in the 10th century. It was a disease that, via European colonisation and invasion, decimated Indigenous populations, and used to kill up to 35% of its victims, leaving others scarred or blind.

The last cases of smallpox world wide

In late 1975, Rahima Banu, a three-year-old girl from Bangladesh, was the last person in the world to have naturally acquired variola major and the last person in Asia to have active smallpox. She was isolated at home with house guards posted 24 hours a day until she was no longer infectious. A house-to-house vaccination campaign within a 1.5 mile radius of her home began immediately, and every house, public meeting area, school, and healer within 5 miles was visited by a member of the Smallpox Eradication Program team to ensure the illness did not spread. A reward was also offered to anyone for reporting a smallpox case.

Ali Maow Maalin was the last person to have naturally acquired smallpox caused by variola minor. Maalin was a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia. On October 12, 1977, he accompanied two smallpox patients in a vehicle from the hospital to the local smallpox office. On October 22, he developed a fever. At first he was diagnosed with malaria, and then chickenpox. He was correctly diagnosed with smallpox by the smallpox eradication staff on October 30. Maalin was isolated and made a full recovery. Maalin died of malaria on July 22, 2013 while working in the polio eradication campaign.

Janet Parker was the last person to die of smallpox. It was 1978, and Parker was a medical photographer at the Birmingham University Medical School in England and worked one floor above the Medical Microbiology Department where smallpox research was being conducted. She became ill on August 11 and developed a rash on August 15 but was not diagnosed with smallpox until 9 days later. She died on September 11, 1978.

The vaccine

You don’t need a vaccine any more because this devastating disease has been eradicated from the planet. The eradication of this disease is the ultimate proof of the extraordinary way that vaccination, and herd immunity, can prevent disease.

Further reading

For more information about smallpox, and the smallpox vaccine, and the amazing achievement of eradicating this once devastating disease from the planet, please see here.

Page reviewed November 2018.
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