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Concept: Edward Jenner


Edward Jenner and his contemporaries believed that his variolae vaccinae originated in horses and molecular analyses show that modern vaccinia virus (VACV) strains share common ancestry with horsepox virus (HPXV). Given concerns relating to the toxicity of modern VACV vaccines, we asked whether an HPXV-based vaccine might provide a superior alternative. Since HPXV may be extinct and the only specimen of HPXV that has been identified is unavailable for investigation, we explored whether HPXV could be obtained by large-scale gene synthesis. Ten large (10-30 kb) fragments of DNA were synthesized based on the HPXV sequence along with two 157 nt VACV terminal sequences, and were recombined into a live synthetic chimeric HPXV (scHPXV) in cells infected with Shope fibroma virus (SFV). Sequencing of the 212 kbp scHPXV confirmed it encoded a faithful copy of the input DNA. We believe this is the first complete synthesis of a poxvirus using synthetic biology approaches. This scHPXV produced smaller plaques, produced less extracellular virus and exhibited less virulence in mice than VACV, but still provided vaccine protection against a lethal VACV challenge. Collectively, these findings support further development of scHPXV as a novel replication-proficient smallpox vaccine.

Concepts: Virus, Gene, Vaccinia, Edward Jenner, Vaccination, Vaccine, Cowpox, Smallpox


We built a SEIR (susceptible, exposed, infected, recovered) model of smallpox transmission for New York, New York, USA, and Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, that accounted for age-specific population immunosuppression and residual vaccine immunity and conducted sensitivity analyses to estimate the effect these parameters might have on smallpox reemergence. At least 19% of New York’s and 17% of Sydney’s population are immunosuppressed. The highest smallpox infection rates were in persons 0-19 years of age, but the highest death rates were in those >45 years of age. Because of the low level of residual vaccine immunity, immunosuppression was more influential than vaccination on death and infection rates in our model. Despite widespread smallpox vaccination until 1980 in New York, smallpox outbreak severity appeared worse in New York than in Sydney. Immunosuppression is highly prevalent and should be considered in future smallpox outbreak models because excluding this factor probably underestimates death and infection rates.

Concepts: Immunology, Epidemiology, Inoculation, Edward Jenner, Vaccination, New South Wales, Immune system, Smallpox


When vaccinations with vaccinia against smallpox and Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis were phased out in some high-income countries around 1980, the impact on overall mortality was not examined. Recent studies from low-income countries have suggested that these vaccines are associated with mortality reductions, not explained by specific disease protection. We examined whether vaccinia and BCG administered in childhood were associated with long-term mortality reductions in a high-income population.

Concepts: Tuberculosis, Cowpox, Edward Jenner, World Bank, Vaccination, Infectious disease, Vaccine, Smallpox


After Edward Jenner established human vaccination over 200 years ago, attenuated poxviruses became key players to contain the deadliest virus of its own family: Variola virus (VARV), the causative agent of smallpox. Cowpox virus (CPXV) and horsepox virus (HSPV) were extensively used to this end, passaged in cattle and humans until the appearance of vaccinia virus (VACV), which was used in the final campaigns aimed to eradicate the disease, an endeavor that was accomplished by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980. Ever since, naturally evolved strains used for vaccination were introduced into research laboratories where VACV and other poxviruses with improved safety profiles were generated. Recombinant DNA technology along with the DNA genome features of this virus family allowed the generation of vaccines against heterologous diseases, and the specific insertion and deletion of poxvirus genes generated an even broader spectrum of modified viruses with new properties that increase their immunogenicity and safety profile as vaccine vectors. In this review, we highlight the evolution of poxvirus vaccines, from first generation to the current status, pointing out how different vaccines have emerged and approaches that are being followed up in the development of more rational vaccines against a wide range of diseases.

Concepts: Virus, Poxviridae, Vaccinia, DNA, Edward Jenner, Cowpox, Vaccination, Smallpox


For millennia, humans have sought and found purpose, solace, values, understanding, and fellowship in religious practices. Buddhist nuns performed variolation against smallpox over 1000 years ago. Since Jenner developed vaccination against smallpox in 1796, some people have objected to and declined vaccination, citing various religious reasons. This paper reviews the scriptural, canonical basis for such interpretations, as well as passages that support immunization. Populous faith traditions are considered, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Subjects of concern such as blood components, pharmaceutical excipients of porcine or bovine origin, rubella strain RA 27/3, and cell-culture media with remote fetal origins are evaluated against the religious concerns identified. The review identified more than 60 reports or evaluations of vaccine-preventable infectious-disease outbreaks that occurred within religious communities or that spread from them to broader communities. In multiple cases, ostensibly religious reasons to decline immunization actually reflected concerns about vaccine safety or personal beliefs among a social network of people organized around a faith community, rather than theologically based objections per se. Themes favoring vaccine acceptance included transformation of vaccine excipients from their starting material, extensive dilution of components of concern, the medicinal purpose of immunization (in contrast to diet), and lack of alternatives. Other important features included imperatives to preserve health and duty to community (e.g., parent to child, among neighbors). Concern that ‘the body is a temple not to be defiled’ is contrasted with other teaching and quality-control requirements in manufacturing vaccines and immune globulins. Health professionals who counsel hesitant patients or parents can ask about the basis for concern and how the individual applies religious understanding to decision-making about medical products, explain facts about content and processes, and suggest further dialog with informed religious leaders. Key considerations for observant believers for each populous religion are described.

Concepts: Edward Jenner, Christianity, Inoculation, Immune system, Smallpox, Vaccine, Religion, Vaccination


For almost 150 years after Edward Jenner had published the “Inquiry” in 1798, it was generally assumed that the cowpox virus was the vaccine against smallpox. It was not until 1939 when it was shown that vaccinia, the smallpox vaccine virus, was serologically related but different from the cowpox virus. In the absence of a known natural host, vaccinia has been considered to be a laboratory virus that may have originated from mutational or recombinational events involving cowpox virus, variola viruses or some unknown ancestral Orthopoxvirus. A favorite candidate for a vaccinia ancestor has been the horsepox virus. Edward Jenner himself suspected that cowpox derived from horsepox and he also believed that “matter” obtained from either disease could be used as preventative of smallpox. During the 19th century, inoculation with cowpox (vaccination) was used in Europe alongside with inoculation with horsepox (equination) to prevent smallpox. Vaccine-manufacturing practices during the 19th century may have resulted in the use of virus mixtures, leading to different genetic modifications that resulted in present-day vaccinia strains. Horsepox, a disease previously reported only in Europe, has been disappearing on that continent since the beginning of the 20th century and now seems to have become extinct, although the virus perhaps remains circulating in an unknown reservoir. Genomic sequencing of a horsepox virus isolated in Mongolia in 1976 indicated that, while closely related to vaccinia, this horsepox virus contained additional, potentially ancestral sequences absent in vaccinia. Recent genetic analyses of extant vaccinia viruses have revealed that some strains contain ancestral horsepox virus genes or are phylogenetically related to horsepox virus. We have recently reported that a commercially produced smallpox vaccine, manufactured in the United States in 1902, is genetically highly similar to horsepox virus, providing a missing link in this 200-year-old mystery.

Concepts: Inoculation, Vaccinia, Smallpox vaccine, Cowpox, Vaccine, Edward Jenner, Vaccination, Smallpox


On June 25, 2015, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended routine vaccination with live smallpox (vaccinia) vaccine (ACAM2000) for laboratory personnel who directly handle 1) cultures or 2) animals contaminated or infected with replication-competent vaccinia virus, recombinant vaccinia viruses derived from replication-competent vaccinia strains (i.e., those that are capable of causing clinical infection and producing infectious virus in humans), or other orthopoxviruses that infect humans (e.g., monkeypox, cowpox, and variola) (recommendation category: A, evidence type 2 [Box]). Health care personnel (e.g., physicians and nurses) who currently treat or anticipate treating patients with vaccinia virus infections and whose contact with replication-competent vaccinia viruses is limited to contaminated materials (e.g., dressings) and persons administering ACAM2000 smallpox vaccine who adhere to appropriate infection prevention measures can be offered vaccination with ACAM2000 (recommendation category: B, evidence type 2 [Box]). These revised recommendations update the previous ACIP recommendations for nonemergency use of vaccinia virus smallpox vaccine for laboratory and health care personnel at risk for occupational exposure to orthopoxviruses (1). Since 2001, when the previous ACIP recommendations were developed, ACAM2000 has replaced Dryvax as the only smallpox vaccine licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and available for use in the United States (2). These recommendations contain information on ACAM2000 and its use in laboratory and health care personnel at risk for occupational exposure to orthopoxviruses.

Concepts: Edward Jenner, Infectious disease, Cowpox, Infection, Vaccination, Vaccinia, Virus, Smallpox


Sir Hans Sloane’s account of inoculation as a means to protect against smallpox followed several earlier articles published in Philosophical Transactions on this procedure. Inoculation (also called ‘variolation’) involved the introduction of small amounts of infectious material from smallpox vesicles into the skin of healthy subjects, with the goal of inducing mild symptoms that would result in protection against the more severe naturally acquired disease. It began to be practised in England in 1721 thanks to the efforts of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who influenced Sloane to promote its use, including the inoculation of the royal family’s children. When Edward Jenner’s inoculation with the cow pox (‘vaccination’) followed 75 years later as a safer yet equally effective procedure, the scene was set for the eventual control of smallpox epidemics culminating in the worldwide eradication of smallpox in 1977, officially proclaimed by WHO in 1980. Here, we discuss the significance of variolation and vaccination with respect to scientific, public health and ethical controversies concerning these ‘weapons of mass protection’. This commentary was written to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Concepts: Vaccine, Royal Society, Hans Sloane, Inoculation, Smallpox, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Edward Jenner, Vaccination


Smallpox is regarded as an ancient and lethal disease of humans, however very little is known about the prevalence and impact of smallpox before the advent of vaccination (c.1800). Here we use evidence from English burial records covering the period 1650-1799 to confirm a striking geography to smallpox patterns. Smallpox apparently circulated as a childhood disease in northern England and Sweden, even where population densities were low and settlement patterns dispersed. However, smallpox was a relatively rare epidemic disease in southern England outside the largest cities, despite its commercialised economy and the growing spatial interconnectedness of its settlements. We investigated a number of factors hypothesised to influence the regional circulation of smallpox, including exposure to naturally occurring orthopox viruses, settlement patterns, and deliberate preventative measures. We concluded that transmission was controlled in southern England by local practices of avoidance and mass inoculation that arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Avoidance measures included isolation of victims in pest houses and private homes, as well as cancellation of markets and other public gatherings, and pre-dated the widespread use of inoculation. The historical pattern of smallpox in England supports phylogenetic evidence for a relatively recent origin of the variola strains that circulated in the twentieth century, and provides evidence for the efficacy of preventative strategies complementary to immunisation.

Concepts: Immunity, Demography, Inoculation, Edward Jenner, Vaccine, Infectious disease, Vaccination, Smallpox


An Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) is an adverse reaction to a vaccination that goes above and beyond the usual side effects associated with vaccinations. One serious AEFI related to the smallpox vaccine is myopericarditis. Metabolomics involves the study of the low molecular weight metabolite profile of cells, tissues, and biological fluids, and provides a functional readout of the phenotype. Metabolomics may help identify a particular metabolic signature in serum of subjects who are predisposed to developing AEFIs. The goal of this study was to identify metabolic markers that may predict the development of adverse events following smallpox vaccination. Serum samples were collected from military personnel prior to and following receipt of smallpox vaccine. The study population included five subjects who were clinically diagnosed with myopericarditis, 30 subjects with asymptomatic elevation of troponins, and 31 subjects with systemic symptoms following immunization, and 34 subjects with no AEFI, serving as controls. Two-hundred pre- and post-smallpox vaccination sera were analyzed by untargeted metabolomics using (1)H nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Baseline (pre-) and post-vaccination samples from individuals who experienced clinically verified myocarditis or asymptomatic elevation of troponins were more metabolically distinguishable pre- and post-vaccination compared to individuals who only experienced systemic symptoms, or controls. Metabolomics profiles pre- and post-receipt of vaccine differed substantially when an AEFI resulted. This study is the first to describe pre- and post-vaccination metabolic profiles of subjects who developed an adverse event following immunization. The study demonstrates the promise of metabolites for determining mechanisms associated with subjects who develop AEFI and the potential to develop predictive biomarkers.

Concepts: Cowpox, Vaccine, Metabolomics, Metabolism, Immune system, Edward Jenner, Vaccination, Smallpox