Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) is best known for writing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
What do those books have to do with vaccines?
Lewis Carroll did get into a debate with someone that was pushing anti-vaccine misinformation about the smallpox vaccine.
In 1877, the Eastbourne Chronicle published a letter by Mr W Hume-Rothery, who claimed that the smallpox vaccine “was causing smallpox in large numbers of people” and discredited the value of vaccination in preventing smallpox.
According to Julie Leask, in her article “Should we do battle with antivaccination activists:”
Using his real name of Charles L Dodgson, Carroll refuted the claims with his characteristic eloquence. This correspondence escalated into an increasingly defensive exchange between Carroll and Hume-Rothery, in which Carroll, “a trifle ruffled but keeping to the point, retired after the third round”. His opponent continued vigorously until the editor ended the correspondence.
Of course, the smallpox vaccine, can’t cause smallpox. It is made using the vaccinia virus.
Vaccinia is a pox-type virus that is related to smallpox. That’s why vaccination with the smallpox vaccine creates immunity against smallpox. You can’t get smallpox or cause someone else to have smallpox after getting vaccinated though.
You could get smallpox from the previous method that was used to induce immunity – variolation, but Jenner’s smallpox vaccine was much safer and had long replaced variolation when Carroll and Hume-Rothery were having their ‘debate.’
And like those who make anti-vaccine arguments today, Hume-Rothery either made a mistake or was intentionally trying to deceive people. In one of his letters, Dodgson “claimed that just using the percentage of deaths among vaccinated patients , without comparing it with the percentage of deaths among the nonvaccinated, proves nothing.”
Who knew that Dodgson also studied epidemiology…
For more information:
- Frequently Asked Questions About Smallpox Vaccine
- Should we do battle with antivaccination activists?
- Charles Lutwidge Dodgson: A Chronology of His Life
- Crutch D, editor. Lewis Carroll: three letters on anti-vaccination (1877). London: Lewis Carroll Society; 1976.
- The political pamphlets and letters of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and related pieces: a mathematical approach