The practice of vaccinations in America dates back to 1721. Vaccines are nothing new and have been the counter-antidote, to every killer virus that has posed a threat to mankind. For hundreds of years, vaccines have been a game-changer in eradicating human diseases that have decimated entire communities and claimed millions of lives around the world. Believe it or not, this life-saving practice was brought to America by a slave.

In the 1700s smallpox unleashed sickness and death around the globe. There was a total of 7 outbreaks of the devastating disease. The deadly and highly contagious virus's impact reached the shores of North America upon the arrival of Columbus. The explorer's first voyage is attributed to bringing the smallpox virus to America and led to its spread across most of the continent of North America. By 1721, the smallpox epidemic converged on the city of Boston. People were dying by the hundreds, but a slave named Onesimus changed everything.

Smallpox Vaccination Study in Florida
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He was sold to Cotton Mather, a prominent Puritan minister, in 1706. As the smallpox epidemic in Boston worsened, Onesimus shared an inoculation practice with Mather that was used by his tribe in Africa for centuries to prevent or stop disease outbreaks in his village. The process was quite simple as the tribe's medicine man would scratch a small piece of the wound of an infected person and apply a tiny portion of residue in the noses of everyone in the tribe. By introducing the body to a tiny amount of the disease, it was able to produce an antigen and kill it. Thus the person would become immune to the virus and no longer be at risk of severe sickness or death should they get they were exposed to it again.

Mather knew that Onesimus was very intelligent and shared this vital info with Dr. Zabdiel Boylston. Despite widespread skepticism, Zabdiel put the theory to the test and inoculated 280 people. Six of his patients died (2.2%), compared to 844 deaths that occurred among the 5,889 smallpox patients that did not get inoculated (14.3%.) Numbers don't lie and to everyone's amazement, Dr. Boylston managed to successfully inoculate 240 people. By 1796, the inoculation method Onesimus introduced laid the groundwork for the development of a vaccination for smallpox and cowpox by Edward Jenner. Though it took several decades to immunize people around the globe, in 1980 the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had finally been completely eradicated. To this day smallpox is the first and only infectious disease to be wiped out and all the credit goes to an African slave Onesimus.

In 2016, his life-saving efforts were recognized and permanently noted in history. A Boston Magazine survey declared Onesimus was number 52 on a list of the "Best Bostonians of All Time."

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