Everybody knows the basic concepts of vaccines and must have heard about anti-vaxxers. However, vaccines and anti-vaxxers have a long history. In this blog, I will be discussing the history of vaccines and anti-vaxxers along with a lot of important controversies and major outbreaks.
Firstly, some people may not understand what exactly is “anti-vaccination movement”. That’s why it’s important to clarify what exactly the anti-vaccination movement is.
Well, the anti-vaccination movement is a movement that groups people who are against vaccination. Such people do not vaccinate their children and also they do not get vaccinated themselves.
Actually, the anti-vaccination movement began in France in 1763 and continuing till today. But before that, the first immunization attempt has happened even before the 11th century.
China, 10th century B.C.
It’s true, the concept of immunization is not a new concept at all. Actually, people through history have always looked to avoid diseases with all means possible.
However, after receiving inoculation, the patient would suffer symptoms of low-grade fever which is not dangerous. Then, within a few days, the patient would develop immunity to smallpox.
Firstly, the Italian physician Angelo Gatti introduced the smallpox inoculation to Paris in 1763. However, Dr.Gatti did not isolate his inoculated patients properly which risked the health of other Parisians. Therefore, the French Parlement ordered a ban on inoculation in Paris.
Unfortunately, that was what ignited the starting of the anti-vaccination movement in their history. Despite that, the rise of smallpox outbreaks in Europe helped smallpox inoculation to grow in popularity.
In general, most historians consider 1796 to be a major year in the history of vaccines and anti-vaxxers.
In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine. Similarly, the anti-vaccination movement had its most significant development in this period alongside vaccines.
Firstly, the vaccine caused controversy because it involved inoculating people with cowpox material instead of smallpox material. Consequently, this unusual concept has led to the development of a general distrust in medicine and physicians.
Furthermore, the public was worried about the sanitation of early vaccination methods. Also, a lot of Clergymen claimed that smallpox was God’s punishment and it should not be treated.
Unfortunately, all these factors added together made it difficult for the public to digest the idea of immunization.
in 1853, the English government ordered mandatory vaccination to all infants and issued penalties to people who refused to do so. However, this act made the anti-vaxxers to speak up and resist vaccination publicly.
Eventually, anti-vaxxers formed many anti-vaccination organizations most notably, the Anti-Vaccination League.
The US, 1879.
In 1879, the well-known businessman William Tebb caused a major turning point in the history of vaccines and anti-vaxxers.
It started when the infamous British anti-vaccinationist William Tebb visited the United States. Consequently, his arrival has led several anti-vaccination groups to be formed. Unfortunately, these groups had a lot of impact in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Leicester, England, 1885.
Notably, Leicester is known to be the most common place for anti-vaxxers’ meetings. Consequently, in 1885 around 90,000 demonstrators led a march against vaccinations.
The march included anti-vaccination banners, children’s coffins, and burning of an Edward Jenner, the first vaccine developer, statuette.
Eventually, due to such repetitive marches, a new vaccination act in 1898 removed the penalty for vaccine refusal.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, the US, 1902.
In 1902, a smallpox outbreak has forced the board of health of Cambridge to require all residents to be vaccinated. As expected, anti-vaxxers did not digest this act and therefore, they issued a court case.
Notably, the court case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Eventually, in 1905, the Court ruled that a state could ratify mandatory laws to protect the public from communicable diseases.
By 1924, vaccines were available for Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Smallpox. Furthermore, scientists have identified and been developing vaccines for other diseases. These diseases include Polio, Typhoid, Influenza, and Whooping Cough.
Georgetown, Delaware, the US, 1926.
Despite the significant success vaccines had, the public, unfortunately, was still circumspect. Notably, in 1926, health officers arrived in Georgetown to vaccinate the town’s citizens. Unexpectedly, an armed rabble opposed them and forced them out of the city.
Berkeley, California, the US, 1955.
In 1955, a laboratory has produced 120,000 doses of Salk polio vaccine that unintentionally contained live polio virus. Consequently, these doses caused 40,000 polio cases in which 53 got pralyzed and 5 lost has their lived.
A report from the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London presumed 36 children suffered neurologic disorders following vaccination for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Whooping cough.
Consequently, this report caused the DTP vaccine safety to be questioned across the globe. In addition, this report caused a drastic decrease in vaccination rates from 81% to 31%. Unfortunately, the decrease in vaccination rates led to 3 major Whooping cough epidemics.
From 1979 till 1996, Sweden suspended vaccination against Whooping cough. As expected, the ban has resulted in roughly 60% of all children in Sweden to develop Whooping cough before the age of 10.
In 1998, a British doctor released a research paper investigating the links between MMR vaccines with bowel disease and autism. Unfortunately, this paper has severely damaged the public opinions on the MMR vaccines. However, in 2011 the paper was proven to be deceptive.
The United States, 1998.
Scientists usually add a mercury compound, thimerosal, to preserve the vaccines they develop. For unknown reasons, anti-vaxxers started a campaign called “Green Our Vaccines”. It occurred that, Anti-vaxxers assumed that the mercury compound is harmful and demanded its removal from vaccines.
As usual, there are absolutely no scientific bases or reasoning behind their demands. Regardless, in 1999 public health and medical organizations agreed to reduce or eliminate mercury in vaccines.
As a matter of fact, this campaign along with the vaccination-autism controversy is the basis of the modern Anti-vaxxers movement.
The US, 2000.
In 2000, there were no cases of measles transmitted by patients in the US. Also, patients who were outside the US were the only source of measles in the US as they were importing it.
The US, 2007.
The celebrity Jenny McCarthy announced that autism afflicted her son. Consequently, she primarily blamed the vaccinations her son has taken. Also, anti-vaxxers considered this celebrity to be their figurehead. Therefore, they use her as their prime example in arguing that vaccines trigger autism.
The US, 2013 to 2015.
Communities who did not vaccinate their children were responsible for three large measles outbreaks. Importantly, in 2013, 2014, and 2015, CDC recorded 159, 668, and 188 cases in different US states. Furthermore, until today, measles outbreaks keep on increasing.