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Research & Thoughts

History Lesson #13: Vaccination Protests in History

 First note the photo accompanying the article that I lifted from Facebook (source unknown). Let's confirm data:


1. I know that all living presidents, including Trump, are vaccinated.

2. Has every governor in the US been vaccinated? I couldn't find the definitive answer, but Abbot and DeSantis have, and DeSantis does encourage vaccinations, just not masking. I'd say it's probably true.

3. Congress? Nearly 100% sounds true

4. 96% of American physicians? Probably true

5. Biden has made a demand that they all be vaccinated.


Who's not vaccinated? Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated (apnews.com). This indicated that deaths could be practically zero if we were all vaccinated.  More interesting is how an NFL star like Cam Newton could jeopardize his career for his decision of not getting the shot.


But there's reason for hope: in this week's The Week (September 10:17) noted that among adults only 20% are now saying they are not likely to get vaccinated. Did this come on the heels of some pretty well-known naysayers who died? The same magazine (12) listed among them the Texas rally organizer Caleb Wallace, talk show host Phil Valentine, and radio host Dick Farrel, who once called Dr. Fauci a "power-tripping lying freak."


Are we of a spoiled nation of want-getters that we cannot foul our existence by covering our smiles? Is this protest unprecedented? True, having a president to completely and deliberately keep us divided is pretty unprecedented. Presidents in history have been seen as uniters, not dividers, especially if they want a second term. Too bad Trump cannot see beyond his own ego.


But having disease deliberately punctured into our veins? I mean, how crazy are we? Let's talk a walk through inoculations in history.


The first one I heard about was during the Revolutionary War, and how Washington had to insist his soldiers be inoculated against smallpox. Is it possible that there was such a thing back that early? I didn't think so, but I've been corrected. You can see a letter Pat Fitzgerald sent me from the National Archives dated 1777 at a link I shared in my sources, where Washington thanked a doctor for innoculating them. 


I found this in several sources:


During a smallpox epidemic in the west of England in 1774, farmer Benjamin Jesty decided to try something. He scratched some pus from cowpox lesions on the udders of a cow into the skin of his wife and sons. None of them contracted smallpox.


Another source takes us back even farther, to Massachusetts in 1721, and even earlier in Europe, where the Ottoman Empire at Constantinople mentioned inoculation in 1714 against smallpox having been used for the past 40 years.


"Jacob Pylarinius, also writing from Turkey, reported that inoculation had been introduced into Constatinople by a Greek woman about 1660. It had been widely used by poor Christians until, during a severe smallpox epidemic in 1700, the practice spread throughout the Christian community more generally."


We learn in this article that a number of Muslims refused to get innoculated because "because it was believed by them to interfere with divine providence." This was by no means universal among them, however. So you see, some conservative Christians today are just following the example set by some Muslims centuries ago.


Several other sources noted, making history a difficult subject, that the first smallpox vaccination was created in 1796 by Edward Jenner, who created an injection with "cowpox," which at the time was rare but could jump to humans. I suspect that our historical difference is between innoculation and injection. Here's how innoculation was described in those early treatments:


"Then the Surgeon makes an incision upon the Back of the Hand, between the Thumb and Fore-finger, and puts a little of the Matter, squeezed out of the largest and fullest Pustules, into the Wound."


It was learned through this experimentation on humans that it also treated people for smallpox. The boy victim was only 8, suffered from cowpox, and felt ill for a few days after the inoculation but recovered. Then the boy gamely allowed himself to be exposed to a smallpox victim, but didn't catch it.


It took two years for word to spread, during which he treated 22 more people. You can imagine though, with people who knew the history of the black plague, that getting that inoculation against smallpox would have people lining up, as they did in the early days of 2021. In 1980, the World Health Organization announced that smallpox has been eradicated and inoculations were no longer needed, but there is a stockpile of the vaccine, just in case.


A quarantine due to no known cure occurred even earlier. Here's a report from History News Network:


A string of yellow fever outbreaks erupted between 1793 and 1798, taking thousands of lives and leaving the nation dizzy with loss. Shortly after the outbreaks, John Adams signed and established the first federal quarantine law against the recurrent epidemics of yellow fever. According to Carleton B. Chapman, an MD, the Federal Quarantine Proposal of 1796 met "virtually no opposition."


Virtually none. You see, because doctors didn't know it all back then, they all valued their lives more than any reason to dissent. Why aren't we like that today? Because we believe the hospitals can save us, regardless of the overload they now suffer from that they cannot help real patients with real problems.


"Jefferson favored a bill that required the federal government to "guarantee and distribute effective vaccine" and signed it into law in 1813. Ultimately, Congress decided that the best approach was to leave the implementation of vaccination efforts up to state and local authorities." Jefferson as not president in 1813 and could not sign anything into law, so it's hard to know what this author meant. I did find this at History of Vaccines.org dated 1813.


The U.S. Congress authorized and James Madison signed "An Act to Encourage Vaccination," establishing a National Vaccine Agency. James Smith, a physician from Baltimore, was appointed the National Vaccine Agent. The U.S. Post Office was required to carry mail weighing up to 0.5 oz. for free if it contained smallpox vaccine material—an effort to advance Congress's ruling to "preserve the genuine vaccine matter, and to furnish the same to any citizen of the United States."


This is in complete opposition to the statement about Jefferson, but I'm leaving it in here because you can see how the internet information needs follow-up.


Did smallpox vaccinations lead to protests? You bet, which is why it took until 1980 to eradicate it. History News Network noted that the Puritans vaccinated after an outbreak in New England but immunizations weren't required anywhere until Boston in 1809. States began to adopt similar legislation, and incidents of smallpox declined between 1802 and 1840 (Massachusetts became the first to encourage the use of vaccines in 1802), but made a comeback so that by the 1850s because "irregular physicians" challenged the practice with "unorthodox medical theories."


What goes around, comes around, right? Those same unorthodox medical opinions exist today and have a wider platform. This reminds me, too, of archaeologists who like to challenge the theories of those who came before them, so they can make a name for themselves. That happened with smallpox vaccinations, too; so-called professionals who laugh in the face of what works with something so outrageous that people afraid of the needle or being injected with disease want to believe these quacks, instead. One doctor even claimed that the injections caused 80% of the smallpox cases, when smallpox ran rampant before any vaccine was known.


It was also around this time that the Indians were dying of smallpox following their first encounter with Europeans and some even believed that these Americans were deliberately infecting them; and that 25,000 children died in Britain each year because of being inoculated. I wonder how they found the stats to back that up?


But as we see today, anti-vaxxers don't believe stats. I suppose that's why it seems more prevalent today, due to all the junk that travels the internet social networks. (By the way, it has never been confirmed that Indians were deliberately exposed to smallpox to kill them off.)


In 1902 Massachusetts mandated the vaccine to ward off a resurgence of the disease. Some people rejected on religious grounds, and today it's felt that some blacks refuse because of the experiments performed on them at Tuskegee. One protester refused and took his case to court. In 1905 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the state against Jacobson; the Court having found that an immunization rate of 85-90 percent confers protection on the entire group. The landmark Supreme Court case Jacobson v Massachusetts served as the precedent for future court decisions and the foundation of public health laws.


We have had mandatory vaccination laws, especially for children going to school. You had to show an immunization record for your child so they could attend classes. These diseases are mostly eradicated today, which perhaps is why so many young parents are resisting now. There were protests to vaccinations when my kids were going to school. Perhaps that's where the whole home-schooling issue came in (a lesson for another time). We know the Amish don't vaccinate anyone in their community, nor do they report on their health conditions.


A good point about protests was made in an article at OAH.org (Organization of American Historians):


Anti-vaccinationism was relatively muted, however, when our modern era of vaccination got underway in the 1960s. In that decade, a series of new vaccines—to prevent polio, measles, mumps, and rubella—were developed in rapid succession. Just a few years before, the American public had greeted the first polio vaccine, released in 1954, with wild enthusiasm. Parents so dreaded polio that they were quick to seek the vaccine for their children, and coercive policies never became necessary. A few voices spoke out against the vaccine, but they got little traction in a nation overwhelmingly desperate to prevent the disease.


Media was muted on the anti-vaxxers back then, but with so much social networking now, it would be hard to mute those voices. An effort should be made however, and especially mute QAnon and Trump supporters, such as those who recently booed him at a rally when he told them to get inoculated. The creator lost control of his monster.


But during the era of feminism combined with environmentalism, and all we learned about carcinogens and other poisons in what we eat and drink, some mothers got wind of what we weren't being told about the vaccinations. I guess the prevention rate wasn't enough; they started to believe autism was a result of prevention, and felt it wasn't worth the risk.


From there, here we are. With people who would rather eat cow dung. There will always be those who feel (via religion) that God will protect them, but we will all suffer the risk if we lose control of COVID, a mutating monster that feeds on anti-vaxxer lunacy.


New information on the symptoms of the Delta make it seem to mimic a cold, at least at first. Since I have allergies, wearing a mask in public places, even outside in crowded areas, makes the most sense. Because I'm not going to get a COVID test every day, to protect myself against both the vaccinated and unvaccinated who refuse to mask and could create infected air around me.


Do I live in fear? No. I take precautions, so that I don't. Yes, anything could kill me. But I don't want to die of stupidity.


This is, of course, an incomplete examination of protests, updated to add new and fascinating information. I thank Bill Bright and Pat Fitzgerald for providing the last two sources here.




The Week, September 10 - 17, 2021.

Johnson, Carla K and Mike Stobbe, June 29, 2021, "Nearly All COVID Deaths in the US are now Among Unvaccinated," AP News, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-health-941fcf43d9731c76c16e7354f5d5e187?fbclid=IwAR1KWENVq8b18Pj0Z6zZVZB7MGxGSxoqBJAdCx1XM2ZoosgEm7AOYxfb5u0. 

World Atlas, https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/when-was-the-first-vaccine-created.html. 

OAH.org, https://www.oah.org/tah/issues/2015/august/vaccination-resistance/. 

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-history/developments-by-year. 

BBC.com, https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200928-how-the-first-vaccine-was-born. 

History of Vaccines.org, https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/government-regulation. 

Good information on Jefferson can be found at his site on Wikipedia.org.

From George Washington to William Shippen, Jr., 6 February 1777 (archives.gov)

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, The origins of inoculation (nih.gov)


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