Raggedy Ann and Vaccines

How is Raggedy Ann associated with vaccines?

Johnny Gruelle wrote children’s book in the early 20th century.

He created Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy sometime before 1914 and wrote a number of stories about his daughter Marcella playing with the dolls.

Tragically, his daughter later died when she was 13 years old, reportedly after getting a second dose of the smallpox vaccine. A second dose that she got without her parents permission and which ended up causing a life-threatening infection.

We have no reason to believe that Gruelle’s daughter didn’t die because of her smallpox vaccine. However, the smallpox vaccine that she would have gotten in the early 20th century was not as safe as the modern smallpox vaccine that was developed in the 1950s.

In the early 20th century (when we were still having outbreaks of smallpox in the United States), well before we had the FDA or CDC or other organizations monitoring vaccine safety, contaminated batches of the smallpox vaccine could cause tetanus, syphilis, or other infections.

In fact, those who developed tetanus died a few weeks after getting vaccinated, which is likely what happened to Gruelle’s daughter.

It is not true however, that he created the Raggedy Ann doll and stories in response to his daughter’s death.

Those kinds of tragedies from contaminated vaccines did lead to the passage of the Biologics Control Act and Pure Food and Drugs Act and eventual standards that made vaccines safer.

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