The Original Anti-Vaxxers

When widespread vaccination was introduced there were objections – some justified, some not. 

‘TRIUMPH OF DE-JENNER-ATION (The Bill for the encouragement of Small Pox awaits Third Reading in the Commons)’, by Edward Linley Sambourne, Punch, 30 July 1898 © Wellcome Images.

Anti-vaccination protests are nothing new, although in the past they did have some justification. When Edward Jenner introduced smallpox inoculation at the end of the 18th century he was widely derided as yet another quack trying to make a quick fortune. Envious rivals were swift to point out his lack of professional qualifications, while one satirist imagined his children turning into cows after being vaccinated:

There, nibbling at thistle, stand Jem, Joe and Mary
On their foreheads,
Oh, horrible! Crumpled horns bud …

Jenner’s technique sounded bizarre and the testing programme was perfunctory. After learning that dairymaids apparently became immune to smallpox after catching cowpox, he embarked on an unorthodox experiment. First, he inoculated his gardener’s son with lymph taken from a woman’s cowpox blister and, two months later, deliberately exposed him to smallpox. The boy remained healthy, as did a handful of further conscripts: Jenner was ready to launch his new procedure.

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