1896, and the consequences of refusing the smallpox vaccine

Like another, far more significant, blogger, I seem to be spending a bit of time on the subject of vaccines & vaccinations. But – given the mumps outbreaks in Auckland & Waikato, and the measles epidemic in Romania & other countries in Europe – it's a subject worth more than one look. 

As a result of a discussion on a community Facebook page, I discovered that Alfred Russel Wallace had become involved in the antivaccine movement in the UK, & had penned a book presenting stats that appeared to show that smallpox vaccination presented no population benefits. He noted that even after compulsory vaccination was introduced in England, epidemics of this awful disease remained a thing. in his comments on the possible size of the unvaccinated population, he noted that "a large but unknown number of the criminal and nomad population … escape the vaccination officers". However, a bit more reading shows that there was more to it than this.

It turns out that it wasn't only the 'criminal & nomad' population that avoided compulsory vaccination – avoidance was widespread and it seems that there was no penalty for this. In other words, it should not have been surprising that smallpox morbidity and mortality remained high in the UK after the vaccine was introduced. This excellent article describes both the historical and human consequences of a whole town's refusal to accept vaccination against smallpox: the Board of Guardians of the town of Gloucester had voted in 1887 "to take no futher steps in vaccination prosecutions". The outcome? By 1895 a staggering 83% of the population was not vaccinated.

So when smallpox flared up in the town in 1896 the results were predictable, and horrifying. While the town implemented a mass vaccination scheme in response to the spread of disease, which brought it under control, over the 6-month duration of the epidemic 

1981 people had been infected. Two-thirds of these were children under ten. The handful of these who had been vaccinated all survived. of the unvaccinated, 40% died.

Follow the link. Read the story. Look at the images of Ethel Cromwell, the human face of this particular outbreak. And understand that, if it weren't for vaccination, this disease & its accompanying death and disfiguration would still be with us today.

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