In 1796, the physician Edward Jenner came up with the idea of using a milder vaccinia virus in a child to stimulate the immune response after he noticed that milkmaids rarely get smallpox.
In Britain, the smallpox vaccine became mandatory for children in 1853, making it the first mandatory prick and sparking strong resistance. Image Credit: Tech2 / Abigail Banerji
Caution and outright hostility toward vaccines did not begin with COVID-19 , date back to the 18th century when the first injections were administered.
From real side effect fears to bogus studies and conspiracy theories, we take a look at anti-vax sentiment throughout the centuries:
1796: first blow, first fears
Smallpox killed or disfigured untold millions over centuries before it was eradicated in 1980 through vaccination.
In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner came up with the idea of using the milder cowpox virus in a child to stimulate the immune response after he noticed that milkmaids rarely get smallpox.
The process – coined “vaccinus” by Jenner (for cow in Latin) – was successful, but it sparked skepticism and fear from the start.
Before Jenner, there was a riskier inoculation method known as “variolation” for smallpox, introduced to Europe from Ottoman Turkey by the English writer and wit Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
1853: mandatory shooting
In Britain, the smallpox vaccine became mandatory for children in 1853, making it the first mandatory prick and sparking strong resistance.
Opponents objected on religious grounds, expressed concern about the dangers of injecting animal products and claimed that individual freedoms were being violated.
In 1898 a “conscience clause” was introduced that allowed skeptics to avoid vaccination.
1885: Pasteur and rage
In the late 19th century, French biologist Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine against rabies by infecting rabbits with a weakened form of the virus.
But again the process generated mistrust and Pasteur was accused of seeking to profit from his discovery.
1920s: heyday of vaccines
Vaccines flourished in the 1920s: vaccines were released against tuberculosis with BCG in 1921, diphtheria in 1923, tetanus in 1926, and pertussis in 1926.
It was also the decade in which aluminum salts began to be used to increase the effectiveness of vaccines.
But more than half a century later, these salts became a source of suspicion, with a condition that causes injury and fatigue called macrophage myofasciitis it is believed to be caused by them.
1998: bogus study on autism
A study published in the leading medical journal The Lancet in 1998 suggested that there was a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as the MMR vaccine.
The article by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues was revealed years later as a fraud and the magazine retracted, and Wakefield removed the medical record.
Despite subsequent studies showing the absence of such a link, the fake document remains a reference for anti-vaccines and left its mark.
Measles killed 207,500 people in 2019, a 50 percent increase from 2016, and the World Health Organization has warned that vaccine coverage is declining globally.
2009: fear of swine flu
The 2009 discovery of “swine flu,” or H1N1, caused by a virus from the same family as the deadly Spanish flu, sparked great alarm.
But H1N1 was not as deadly as initially feared, and millions of doses of vaccines produced to combat it were destroyed, raising distrust of vaccination campaigns.
Things got worse with the discovery that one of the vaccines, Pandemrix, increased the risk of narcolepsy.
Of the 5.5 million people who received the vaccine in Sweden, 440 had to be compensated after developing the sleep disorder.
2020: Polio Conspiracy Theories
Eradicated in Africa since August 2020 thanks to vaccines, polio remains a scourge in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the disease, which causes paralysis in young children, remains endemic.
Conspiracy theories against vaccines have allowed him to continue destroying lives.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban banned vaccination drives, calling them a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.