8 May 2020
On 8 May 1980, smallpox was officially declared eradicated at the 33rd World Health Assembly. This was the first time in history that a disease had been eradicated through mass vaccination. To this day, smallpox is still the only disease affecting humans that has been eradicated in this way. To mark the 40th anniversary of this important event, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement.
Speaking on 8 May 2020, Professor Arne Akbar, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:
“Today marks a big milestone in the history of immunology research – 40 years since the eradication of smallpox, the only disease affecting humans ever to be completely eliminated. Smallpox was a terrible disease that killed millions of people globally every year. First pioneered by British doctor Edward Jenner in the 18th century, vaccination against smallpox proved a crucial tool in the fight to rid the world of this disease. There is no greater testament to the power of vaccination to save and transform our lives through preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
“Viruses do not distinguish national borders. The story of smallpox eradication reminds us all of the critical importance of vaccines and what we can achieve by working together as an international community against a public health threat. As the world deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic, our past success in eradicating smallpox should provide us with hope that, through scientific efforts and international cooperation, we can achieve a healthier and safer future for us all.”
The British Society for Immunology recently released a new report highlighting the role of UK vaccine research in improving global public health. You can download a full copy of the report here.
You can find out more about how the World Health Organization are marking this anniversary on their website.