Inoculation, originally Variolation, is a method of purposefully infecting a person with smallpox (Variola) in a controlled manner so as to minimise the severity of the infection and also to induce immunity against further infection. It preceded vaccination and is separate from it, though today the terms inoculation, vaccination and immunisation are used more or less interchangeably and popularly refer to the process of artificially inducing immunity against various infectious diseases.

In 1796, Edward Jenner introduced the far safer method of inoculation with the cowpox virus, a non-fatal virus that also induced immunity to smallpox. This led to smallpox inoculation falling into disuse and eventually being banned in England in 1840.
From a Wikipedia entry

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