The smallpox virus entered Europe along with the knights-crusaders, and for many centuries this disease did not spare anyone: neither the poor nor the rich. Smallpox infected the English queen Mary II, the emperor of the Roman Empire Joseph I, the Spanish king Louis I, the young Russian emperor Peter II, the French king Louis XV. Ugly scars remained on the faces of Mirabeau, Nikolai Gnedich, Wolfgang Mozart.
Surviving a smallpox outbreak was considered a miracle, and those who survived the disease could always be recognized by the ugly marks on the face and body. In old portraits, an abundance of powder on the faces of noble persons is noticeable - this is not just a tribute to fashion, it is a way to hide the traces of a terrible disease.
In the 18th century, every 7th child died from smallpox in Russia, and in Europe - up to half a million people annually.
Tsar Fyodor Alekseevich also began to fight smallpox. In 1680, he issued a decree commanding the immediate reporting of all cases of infectious diseases. Peter I also issued a number of decrees on the protection of human health, but they did not give a visible result: even the royal family did not escape death: on February 4, 1730, the 15-year-old Emperor Peter II, the grandson of Peter the Great, died of smallpox. He died on the eve of his wedding with Princess Ekaterina Dolgoruka, having become infected from one of his future relatives. With his death, the male branch of the imperial family was cut short.
In the fall of 1741, a smallpox epidemic broke out again in St. Petersburg. Catherine II, who came to power, commands the opening of special smallpox houses to which the sick were to be taken.
The first such house was opened in Moscow in 1764, and in 1768 - in St. Petersburg, where it was named the Wolf's Smallpox House. However, despite all efforts to resist smallpox, it was able to penetrate the court again - Countess A.P. Sheremetyeva, the bride of N.I. Panin, who was the mentor of the Grand Duke. The life of Tsarevich Pavel Petrovich was in jeopardy.
Catherine herself was very afraid of contracting smallpox. "From childhood I was accustomed to the horror of smallpox, at a more mature age I had to make great efforts to reduce this horror, in every insignificant painful seizure I have already seen smallpox, " Catherine wrote to the Prussian king Frederick II.
On October 23, 1768, she decided to take a bold step, which, in her own words, any street boy could decide in England. There people were already vaccinated against smallpox using the "variolation" method. The essence of this method was to extract "biological material" from the ulcers of convalescents, impregnate a thread with it and sew it under the skin. This method was brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the British ambassador in 1718. With his help, the smallpox epidemic was extinguished in Istanbul, and this method began to be used in England. First, the smallpox vaccination was given to criminals on death row, and then to the children of the orphanage. In 1721-1722, a smallpox vaccination was given to members of the family of the British monarch George the First.
The French king Louis XV did not get vaccinated and died of smallpox. Catherine called it barbarism.
She could not put up with this state of affairs. At the invitation of the Empress, the British doctor Dimsdale comes to Russia. Catherine decided first to inoculate herself with smallpox, then to transfer the "smallpox matter" for inoculation to her son-heir, and from him to all those close to her.
On October 12, 1768, in the evening, Dimsdale and the sick peasant boy Sasha Markov were secretly escorted to the Empress's chambers. There she was vaccinated against smallpox. Six days later, Catherine showed signs of illness, and she retired to her chambers. Ekaterina ate almost nothing, suffered from fever and headaches, but finally she coped with the disease and recovered.
Then the vaccination was given to all those close to Catherine, and on November 10 - to Tsarevich Pavel Petrovich.
The boy Markov who had been ill with smallpox, from whom the "smallpox material" was taken, was granted the nobility and the coat of arms and was given the surname Smallpox. The coat of arms depicted a child's hand with a trace of vaccination.
November 21 was declared a holiday and was annually celebrated in the Russian Empire as the day of the victory over smallpox.
Since 1980, vaccinations against smallpox have not been done anywhere in the world - the World Health Organization announced that the smallpox virus does not exist in nature. He still lives in laboratories: in Russia and in the USA.