Smallpox was for several centuries one of the most deadly, most contagious and most feared of diseases. Williamson’s extraordinary study charts the history of one of the most controversial techniques in medical history that raises much debate to this day. Originating probably in Africa, smallpox progressed via the Middle and Near East, where it was studied around the end of the first millennium by Arab physicians. It arrived in Britain during the Elizabethan times and was well established by the seventeenth century. During the closing years of the 18th Century a most far reaching and ultimately controversial development took place when Edward Jenner developed an inoculation for Smallpox based on a culture from Cowpox. The Vaccination Controversy examines the astonishing speed at which Jenner’s technique of ‘vaccination’ was taken up, culminating in the ‘Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1853’. The Act made a painful and sometimes fatal medical practice for all children obligatory and as a result set an important precedent for governmental regulation of medical welfare. The Act remained in force until 1946 and was only ended after decades of intense pressure from the National Anti-vaccination League, but the issues raised by Williamson’s accessible text remain current today in debates about vaccination programs. Meticulously researched, The Vaccination Controversy highlights the social, political and ethical consequences of compulsory vaccination and the massive repercussions that followed the ending of a policy through argued by many to be the most major medical resistance campaign in European medical history.
Smallpox was for several centuries one of the most deadly, most contagious and most feared of diseases, which goes some way towards explaining the controversy that surrounded nineteenth-century efforts to eradicate it. On one side were the authorities and medical men who were keen to put an end to the widespread ravages of smallpox by the most expedient means, while on the other side were ranged those parents who objected to the compulsory infliction on their children of a procedure that had no absolute guarantee of success, and that represented a gross invasion of private life. In this book, Stanley Williamson traces the origins of the vaccination controversy from the introduction from the Orient by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu of the practice of inoculation, through the championing by Edward Jenner of the new method of vaccination using cowpox, and the successive Acts of Parliament that attempted to impose the practice on a sometimes recalcitrant populace. Using contemporary newspaper accounts and the writings of those close to the centre of the controversy, Williamson paints a vivid picture of the full-scale ‘vaccination war’ that raged between the passage of the 1867 Compulsory Vaccination Act and the eventual relaxation of its demands just before the turn of the century. As well as offering a fascinating account of one of the earliest public health controversies, this book also raises issues relating to the balance between personal liberties and societal obligations that remain relevant for contemporary debates about infant vaccination.