Vaccination: "Dr Jenner performing his first vaccination, 1796". Oil painting by Ernest Board.
Vaccination: "Dr Jenner performing his first vaccination, 1796". Oil painting by Ernest Board.

BLOG: We have cows to thank for vaccination – and that’s no bull!

On the 200th anniversary of the death of Edward Jenner – the pioneer of the world’s first vaccine, Director of Public Health, Professor Matthew Ashton reflects on Jenner’s legacy and how life-threatening diseases like measles haven’t gone away – but are being kept at bay through immunisation.

“Edward Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English doctor and scientist who pioneered the smallpox vaccine.

In 18th century Britain, smallpox was probably the single most lethal disease in circulation, but Jenner had come across a tale that piqued his interest.

Milkmaids who had previously contracted cowpox from their herd, didn’t appear to get infected by smallpox.

Jenner went on to use the protective effect of the cowpox virus against smallpox to develop the building blocks of the world’s first vaccine – and interestingly enough, the word vaccine comes from the Latin ‘vacca’ – meaning ‘cow’. (No Bull!)

Back to the here and now, many dangerous and life-threatening diseases, such as polio, tetanus, diphtheria, measles and mumps, have virtually disappeared in the UK thanks to the NHS Childhood Immunisation Programme – but they are still around in many other countries throughout the world.

In the UK, these diseases are only kept at bay by our traditionally high immunisation rates; however, these rates have seen a significant drop in recent years – and we’re now at real risk of seeing outbreaks within our communities.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) target for ‘herd immunity’ is 95%, and previously Liverpool has been at or around that level for most childhood immunisations. 

However, overall uptake of our MMR vaccine is now much lower. Current rates show first doses at 82% and second doses at 76%– and in some parts of our city, rates have dropped to as low as 58%, meaning 2 in 5 kids are not protected.

This will be for a variety of reasons, including difficulty accessing appointments, and the disruption of normal life over the last couple of years. 

However, potentially another reason is people have forgotten how serious these illnesses can be – ironically due to the success of our vaccination programs themselves.

We need to remember that illnesses like measles are not mild – they can be very unpleasant and can lead to serious complications if they spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or brain. In rare cases, measles can lead to problems like pneumonia, meningitis, blindness or seizures (fits) and babies are more at risk.

It’s so important that we all keep protecting our children with these life-saving vaccines, so if you’re unsure whether your child is up to date, please do check in their NHS Red Book, or contact your GP practice.

Merseycare is also running a number of catch-up clinics for children who are behind with their routine immunisations (More than four weeks overdue for their routine baby immunisations and more than five months overdue for their 12 month and pre-school boosters) so this is a really good opportunity for people to catch up if their child has missed out. 

Please do take advantage of this offer if you need to and if you can.”

Catch-up clinics

These are all drop-in – no appointment needed.

  • Picton Childrens Centre, Earle Road, L7 6HD from 1pm to 3.30pm on 31 January and 7 February 2023.
  • Princess Park Health Centre, Bentley Road, L8 0SY from 1pm to 3.30pm on 2 and 9 February
  • Arnot Street Childrens Centre, Walton, L4 4ED from 12.30pm to 3.30pm on the last Wednesday of every month

NHS routine vaccination schedule – when to have them

8 weeks6-in-1 vaccine Rotavirus vaccine MenB  
12 weeks6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose) Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)
16 weeks6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose) MenB (2nd dose)  
1 yearHib/MenC (1st dose) MMR (1st dose) Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine (2nd dose) MenB (3rd dose)
2 to 10 yearsFlu vaccine (every year)
3 years and 4 monthsMMR (2nd dose) 4-in-1 pre-school booster
12 to 13 yearsHPV vaccine
14 years3-in-1 teenage booster MenACWY

For more information visit

Liverpool Waterfront