With a Pox to You! The Slow Defeat of Anti-Vaccinators Before 1950

42 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2010

See all articles by Kristopher A. Nelson

Kristopher A. Nelson

University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Students

Date Written: June 10, 2010


There is a long history of opposition to vaccination that dates back to its earliest uses in Europe and North America to fight smallpox. Opponents have made claims ranging from accusations that vaccination interferes with "God’s will" to claims that it actually contributed to the spread of smallpox instead of preventing it.

In 1967, with the potential elimination of smallpox as a disease within reach, historian Martin Kaufman wrote, "With the improvements in medical practice and the popular acceptance of the state and federal governments' role in public health, the anti-vaccinationists slowly faded from view, and the movement collapsed."

In this paper, I ask: is Kaufman’s opinion an accurate assessment of the historical record? And if it is, how did this transition occur, and what role did anti-vaccinationists play in their own demise? If Kaufman’s assessment was indeed accurate, what lessons can we learn from the growth and demise of pre-1950 anti-vaccination movements that may be applicable to the contemporary vaccination debate?

Keywords: vaccination, smallpox, history, anti-vaccination

Suggested Citation

Nelson, Kristopher A., With a Pox to You! The Slow Defeat of Anti-Vaccinators Before 1950 (June 10, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1627804 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1627804

Kristopher A. Nelson (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Students ( email )

San Diego, CA
United States

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