As we commemorate George Washington’s birthday today, it is interesting to note a little known fact about the first president: George Washington was one of the first political leaders to recognize the positive impact vaccines have.
A new book titled Gentleman Scientists and Revolutionaries: The Founding Fathers in the Age of Enlightenment by Tom Shachtman explains how George Washington pushed for his soldiers and the population at large to be vaccinated against smallpox during the Revolutionary War. At the time, however, this advocacy represented was a very radical position. There was no traditional vaccine at the time. Instead, a technique called variolation was used to promote disease immunity.
The practice of variolation called for the pus from an infected individual being inserted under the skin of an uninfected person. This would give the receiver a very mild case of the disease and, after surviving the mild case of the disease, the person would then be immune. It was a procedure that many founding fathers had gone through themselves, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as well as Martha Washington.