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Yes, photo shows two boys, one vaccinated and one not, exposed to smallpox

A black and white photo posted on Facebook shows two young boys, one with  lesions across his face, chest and arms, the other apparently healthy.

“Two boys, who were exposed to the exact same source of smallpox, were photographed side by side, in order to effectively convey their juxtaposed results,” the caption reads. “The boy on the right was vaccinated, the boy on the left was not, early 1900s.”

The post has been viewed more than 196,000 times so far, but Facebook’s fact-checking system has flagged it as possibly false.

Is the photo genuine, and does it show two boys, one vaccinated and one not, who were exposed to smallpox in the early 1900s? We checked.

Smallpox eradicated in 1980

Smallpox is a contagious infection caused by the variola virus that causes high fever, body pains and pockmarks on the skin. It killed as many as 30% of its victims, with survivors suffering lifelong disfigurement and sometimes blindness. 

The disease was the first to be controlled by a vaccine – an injection that exposes the body to a weakened form of a disease, which prompts the immune system to produce antibodies. 

After global vaccination and surveillance programmes, the WHO officially declared in 1980 that the disease had been eradicated. 

Photo published in 1901

A Google reverse image search indicates that the photo is authentic.

It was first published in 1901 in the New Sydenham Society Atlas of medicine, surgery, and pathology

The photo of the boys was printed with the caption: “Shows two boys, both aged 13 years. The one on the right was vaccinated in infancy, the other was not vaccinated. They were both infected from the same source on the same day. Note that while the one on the left is in the fully pustular stage, the one on the right has had only one or two spots, which have aborted and have already scabbed.”

The book does not give the names of the boys or say where the photo was taken. 

The photo also appears in a 19 May 2019 tweet by the account Dr Jenner’s House. Here it is captioned: “Both boys were exposed to smallpox, but only the boy on the right had previously been vaccinated. The photograph, taken by a doctor working in Leicester, was first published in 1901.”

The tweet is from the official account for Dr Jenner’s House, a museum in Gloucestershire, England. It is dedicated to Dr Edward Jenner, the English physician credited with creating the first smallpox vaccine. 

According to an article in the New Zealand Herald, the original photo was taken by Dr Allan Warner at the Leicester smallpox isolation hospital and published in 1901.  

A photo showing two boys, one vaccinated and one not, who had been exposed to smallpox is authentic. The photo was taken in 1901 and published in a medical journal. – Naledi Mashishi


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