Smallpox: The Historical Myths behind Mandatory Vaccines

It’s not surprising that the medical establishment can be wedded to vaccination as a panacea for disease avoidance

Through the entire corona “ pandemic” the Holy Grail of public wellness officials has been vaccination: just by vaccinating enough people— first the elderly and infirm, then all adults, and today even children— can the nefarious virus be defeated.

As vaccination has established less than wholly successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus, with studies showing rapidly declining protection from the particular vaccines, governments have bending down, introducing not only “ booster” shots for the vaccinated but also suggesting that the unvaccinated must be pressured and, if required, compelled to accept the vaccine.

Rising skepticism of the efficacy of these guidelines, let alone their morality, is usually understandable. However , it is not unexpected that the medical establishment of modern states is wedded towards the idea of vaccination as a cure all for disease prevention. This is, in fact , something close to the founding myth of public health: mandatory vaccination is what ended up saving the world from the great scourges of the past, and it has been introduced by heroic doctors in the face of much opposition from your egoistic, the stupid, as well as the establishment of silly theologians who thought that diseases had been the will of Lord and that suffering humanity merely had to accept it. The particular core of this myth could be the case of smallpox.

The Official History of Smallpox

The tale of smallpox and its removal as told by many textbooks and virtually the entire medical establishment goes something similar to this: from about the sixteenth century, Europe was emaciated by periodic epidemics of smallpox (variola major), an illness that caused pustules in order to erupt all over the skin and incredibly often , in approximately the fifth of all cases, resulted in death. Those who survived were often scarred for life (pockmarked). Early attempts to fight it through “ variolation, ” i. e., inoculation of healthy adults along with puss from infected individuals, proved ineffective— while people who survived this treatment were immune, the practice also served to keep the disease alive and circulating in the population. 1

Then, in 1796, the particular heroic Dr . Edward Jenner made the crucial discovery: anecdotal evidence suggested that milkmaids did not contract smallpox plus Dr . Jenner surmised that contact with cattle had exposed them to cowpox (variola vaccinia), a disease that was much less severe in humans. He thus experimented with inoculating children along with cowpox, and when he afterwards exposed the same to smallpox through variolation, they turned out to be immune. The medical institution, in the form of the Royal Modern society, dismissed the good Dr . Jenner, but nothing daunted, he proceeded to promote his new remedying of “ vaccination” and rapidly received support from educated doctors and statesmen, exactly who sponsored his scheme. Countless numbers were vaccinated in Great Britain inside a couple of years, and the treatment spread to other European countries. Childhood vaccination was made mandatory within the “ enlightened” despotisms associated with Bavaria (1807), Prussia (1835), Denmark (1810), and Sweden (1814) in short order and promoted everywhere else if not precisely imposed. Eventually, the British too would impose required vaccination in spite of early resistance from people such as the character, journalist, and all-round Chad 2   William Cobbett:

I was always, in the very first mention of the thing, opposed to the Cow-Pox scheme…. I, therefore , as will be observed in the pages of the Sign up of that day, most intensely opposed the giving of  twenty thousand lbs   to JENNER  out of the taxes , paid in great component by the working people….

…. This country is fond of quackery of all sorts; and this particular quackery having been sanctioned by Ruler, Lords and Commons, this spread over the country just like a pestilence borne by the winds … [I]in hundreds of instances, persons cow-poxed by JENNER HIMSELF, took the real small-pox afterwards, and have either died from the condition, or narrowly escaped with their lives! 2

Reactionaries like Cobbett spreading misinformation despite, vaccination was a great achievement: the death toll of the smallpox fell drastically across Europe in the first years of the nineteenth century, despite a few setbacks such as epidemics in the 1860s, the 1870s, and the 1880s. These, of course , simply proved the necessity of revaccination and that the group of vaccine resisters had to be persuaded and cajoled to take the vaccine. If anyone doubts this, the experience of the Franco-Prussian War, fought in the middle of a Europe-wide smallpox pandemic, provides conclusive proof: the Prussian army, virtually all of whose soldiers had been vaccinated, demonstrated highly resistant to the disease, while the French recruits, often attracted from benighted Catholic households skeptical of the vaccine, dropped like flies.

Finally, the campaign brought by Donald Henderson to eradicate smallpox worldwide by means of vaccination proved a great achievement. In 1980 the World Wellness Organization declared the disease eliminated.

Realities associated with Smallpox

The particular careful reader may have concluded from some injudicious comments in the previous section, that I usually do not fully accept this tale. Indeed, while some of the main facts are correct— smallpox was obviously a major killer, and it do disappear after the global campaign— the role of vaccination and especially of mandatory vaccination is greatly exaggerated. Two simple facts show this particular:

  1. The decline in mortality from smallpox across Europe started in 1800, before the vaccine was widely distributed and before it was made obligatory anywhere, and it is therefore basically impossible to credit this decline to Jenner and the vaccine.
  2. There were epidemics in practically every single decade thereafter, but in the 1890s fatality fell through the floor— by the early 1900s, smallpox was practically indistinguishable from chicken pox. The reason was that a new strain of the virus, variola minor, created and outcompeted the lethal strain.

The first point is easily seen in Henderson’s own graph: 3

h1. jpg

smallpox fatalities Sweden

Similar graphs might be replicated for all European countries. 4   The concept vaccination caused the drop is obviously untenable, as the practice of vaccination did not spread that widely instantly. Earlier compulsory vaccination (Bavaria within 1807, Denmark in 1810) also came after the decrease.

If the decline in overall mortality is not really due to the vaccine, did it not at least limit epidemics if they did occur? The Franco-Prussian War is the clearest sign of this, as the unvaccinated French succumbed while the Prussians continued to be healthy. This was and is a main piece of evidence for the efficacy of the vaccine. The only issue with it is that it’s entirely false.

First, as the Prussian army did not encounter a high mortality rate from smallpox, there was a deadly epidemic in Prussia— in fact , Prussia was the country most difficult hit in Europe, having a total death toll over sixty-nine thousand. Perhaps teenage boys did not succumb, but the other Prussians did not prove because hardy. Second, while it is true that there was no compulsory vaccination in France and that rates of vaccination had been low, the French soldiers were vaccinated upon enrollment. When anything, the experience of the Franco-Prussian War proved that vaccination was powerless against the pandemic of 1870– 71. 5

The second point is broadly admitted, although Henderson still insinuates that vaccine availability was an important factor to the eradication of smallpox in European countries. Perhaps the argument could be produced, though I have nowhere noticed it, that vaccination resulted in the development of variola minor, which eventually displaced the severe strain. However , in order to see how vaccination was unimportant to the end of European smallpox, we need to return to where everything started— England.

The English Experience

While the English had been initially enthusiastic for vaccination, compulsion was quickly required to spread the practice of infant vaccination. The Respond of 1840 established payment of public vaccinators out from the rates (i. e., nearby taxes), and the Acts associated with 1853, 1867, and 1871 established a system of compulsory vaccination. Parents who declined to have their children vaccinated had been punished by heavy penalties and imprisonment.

While the English generally complied with vaccine requirements, the compulsory acts led to the particular establishment of a National Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League. One important center of this league was the large industrial town associated with Leicester. 6   It was only after the epidemic of 1871– 72 that resistance to compulsion began to spread: parents asked, not unreasonably, why they should subject matter their children to the risks associated with vaccination when they died in the epidemic anyway? The antivaccination agitation culminated with a large demonstration in Leicester within March 1885 with individuals from all over the country and many expressions of sympathy from abroad. 7   The demonstrators carried ads with slogans such as “ Liberty Is Our Birthright, and Liberty We Demand” and “ The Three Support beams of Vaccination— Fraud, Pressure, and Folly. ”

The antivaccinationists had successfully acquired control of the Corporation of Leicester in 1882, although the Board of Adults enforcing vaccination was in addition to the town council. At the same time, noncompliance with infant vaccination distribute: by the mid-1880s, less than half of most infants in Leicester were vaccinated and the trend continuing. In 1886, the Board of Guardians in Leicester stopped enforcement of the Vaccination Acts. The citizens of Leicester through a campaign of nonviolent protest and noncompliance had effectively nullified the particular Vaccination Acts. We might expect that when the next epidemic found its way to England, in 1892– 94, Leicester would be particularly difficult hit, but not so: just 357 cases, or twenty. 5 per 10, 1000, occurred in Leicester when compared with 125. 3 and 144. 2 per 10, 500 in the well-vaccinated towns of Warrington and Sheffield, respectively. 8   The fatality rate within Leicester was also low, at only 21 deaths, or five. 8 percent.

That Leicester did not become a plague spot is not just due to the inefficacy of vaccination. Rather, the town developed a method of dealing with smallpox, the particular Leicester Method, which  subsequently spread to the rest of England from about 1900.

The Leicester Technique was organized by Doctor J. W. Crane Johnston, assistant medical officer through 1877– 80 and healthcare officer from 1880– 85. Johnston’s method was basic: immediate notification when a situation of smallpox was found out, admission to the hospital of the patient, and quarantine of the closest contacts. Notification got already been established, as the Town Council Sanitary Committee in 1876 decided that 2  s . 6  d.   should be paid to any case of smallpox, scarlet fever, or erysipelas, who would consent to hospital admission. 9   The city council, and the antivaccinationists usually, also stressed the importance of sterilization, good hygiene, and healthful living.

Therefore successful did the Leicester experience prove that other English towns started to copy it and notification became national law in 1899. Meanwhile, vaccination rates steadily declined, but despite epidemics in 1892– 94 and 1901 nothing like the old death rates reoccurred. Dr . Millard, who became medical official in Leicester in 1901, spoke frequently about both the benefits of the Leicester Method as well as the dangers of childhood vaccination, as modified smallpox within a vaccinated adult could be a concealed source of infection and thus put the whole community at risk.

In 1948, compulsory smallpox vaccination was formally abolished, but by then the whole English population was de facto unvaccinated— and untouched by smallpox. Taking share of the situation in 1946, Dr . G. K. Bowes said:

The decline in the later decades of the nineteenth century has been at one time almost universally related to vaccination, but it is dubious how true this is. Vaccination was never carried out along with any degree of completeness, actually among infants, and had been maintained at a high level for a couple decades only. There was therefore always a large proportion from the population unaffected by the vaccination laws. Revaccination affected merely a fraction. At present the population is essentially entirely unvaccinated. Members of the public wellness service now flatter by themselves that the cessation of this kind of outbreaks as do occur is a result of their efforts. But is so? The history of the rise, the change in age group incidence, and the decline of smallpox rather lead to the final outcome that we may here have to do with a natural cycle associated with disease like plague, and that smallpox is no longer a natural condition for this country. ten   Whatever the effects of vaccination, it is clear it turned out not the cause of the disappearance of smallpox from England or Europe. eleven   It may possess contributed to the eradication from the disease in the rest of the entire world, but in Europe and United states, it was clearly unnecessary.

Since the disease has been declared officially eradicated, the initial cowpox vaccine no longer types part of the childhood vaccination system in any country.


General public health and vaccination programs rest on one central story: they were crucial to the elimination of one of history’s greatest killers, smallpox. As we’ve seen, this is not true: vaccination was never universal throughout Europe and North America, 12   as well as the decline in mortality and the disease disappeared at the same time everywhere in the Western world, despite whatever variations in public health policies there was. Even countries such as Britain that had de facto given up on compulsory vaccination had been rid of the disease. 13   As Ludwig von Mises, and the generous tradition before him, argued ideas rule the world. The official history of smallpox is a primary support for the policies of modern health authorities. If it is uncovered as largely mythical, the central ideological justification for compulsory vaccination falls by wayside.

And also putting the lie to the official history of smallpox, the particular English experience shows how local populations imbued with liberal principles fourteen   effectively nullified public health measures determined by the central government. For those combatting coercive public health measures today, they can in this too provide inspiration.

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