26 November, 2020, 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

The 2020 Priestley Lecture – ‘Edward Jenner: a man who changed the face of the world’

This lecture is free and will be broadcast on Zoom – to register a place via Eventbrite please click here


On 14th May 1796, physician Edward Jenner carried out an experiment which, if performed today, would probably have resulted in him being struck off. By injecting an 8 year old boy with pus scraped from cowpox blisters, Jenner showed that the child could be inoculated against the far more lethal smallpox. Although he was not the first to suggest that infection with cowpox might confer specific immunity to smallpox, he is today recognised as one of the founders of immunology and pioneers of mass immunisation, which was to lead to the ultimate eradication of smallpox in 1980.


Joseph Priestley was a contemporary of Jenner, and it was most likely he who persuaded Thomas Jefferson to encourage vaccination in the newly established United States. For this alone, Jenner is a worthy subject for this year’s Priestley Lecture. But at a time when it is feared that we have not yet seen the worst of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and all eyes are focussed with hope on current attempts to produce a viable vaccine, few Priestley Lectures can ever have been so topical or relevant to our own time.


After serving as Dean of Medicine and Dentistry, Gareth Williams is now Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Honorary SeniorResearch Fellow in English at the University of Bristol. He has produced 200 scientific papers and over 20 medical textbooks, including the prize-winning Textbook of Diabetes. His books for general readers are Angel of Death: the story of smallpox (shortlisted for the Wellcome Medical Book Prize 2010), Paralysed with Fear: the story of polio (2013), A Monstrous Commotion: the mysteries of Loch Ness (2015), and Unravelling the Double Helix: the lost heroes of DNA (2019). He has served as Chair of the Trustees of the Edward Jenner Museum and is proud to be an Ambassador of the British Polio Fellowship.