In our age of social media, we have gotten used to hearing from the Surgeon General and most everyone else in our government.
Folks likely weren’t as used to this back in the early part of the 20th Century.
Surgeon General Letter to All State Health Officers
At the time, because of a return of smallpox, H.S. Cumming wrote this letter:
To all State Health Officers:
The neglect of vaccination in many districts of certain sections of the United States has led to a recrudescence of smallpox, with the corresponding suffering experienced by its victims and a wholly unnecessary sacrifice of human lives in the years 1922 and 1923 amounting to 967 known deaths from smallpox and possibly a number of others which were not reported. During the first six months of 1924 an additional toll of at least 200 human lives has been taken every one of which deaths could have been prevented by vaccination and revaccination.
The increasing number of cases of smallpox and the continued spread of this disease from city to city and from State to State will, if not checked, not only augment the number of victims but may bring about a condition which would seriously interfere with the movements of passengers on trains steamers, automobiles, and other carriers. It is conceivable that this interference might be of a degree that would involve the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in quarantine, a contingency which might easily be avoided provided our people can be induced to protect themselves by vaccination and revaccination.
The Public Health Service is being importuned at the present time to exercise its authority in enforcing interstate quarantine to prevent the migration of the unvaccinated when there is danger that these persons may have been exposed to smallpox.
It is particularly desirable that the Federal Government may not be forced to interfere in interstate travel and it is earnestly hoped that the authorities of all States, counties, municipalities, or other units of government will immediately begin campaigns to secure the vaccination or revaccination of all persons who have not been recently successfully vaccinated particularly in those States where smallpox is prevalent.
Vaccination and revaccination being a perfect protection against smallpox it might be argued that protection against the disease is a matter which should be left to the discretion of the individual, but there is no more reason for leaving the defense against an enemy of the State, such as smallpox is, to the discretion of the individual, than there would be in leaving the defense of the State against an armed invading force to the individual. These enemies are equally dangerous. Furthermore there are a large number of persons who are otherwise good citizens who because of indifference, carelessness, and lack of information, and oftentimes because of having been deceived by false propaganda and deliberate misinformation, either fail or refuse to protect themselves and their trusting but helpless children until it is too late. These same children of misinformed or irresponsible parents being too young to judge for themselves are entitled to the protection of the State and certainly the State is derelict in its duties if it allows such unprotected children to be exposed to smallpox.
Respectfully HS CUMMING Surgeon General
The response to the foregoing letter has been very gratifying. At the same time, much still remains to be done in the way of vaccination and revaccination of our nonimmune population if a recrudescence of this disease is to be forestalled.
Does any of that surprise you?
Talk of “enforcing interstate quarantine?”
People being deceived by “false propaganda and deliberate misinformation?”
“If a child has a medical exemption to immunization, a physician licensed to practice medicine in New York State must certify that the immunization is detrimental to the child’s health. The medical exemption should specify which immunization is detrimental to the child’s health, provide information as to why the immunization is contraindicated based on current accepted medical practice, and specify the length of time the immunization is medically contraindicated, if known.”
Dear Colleague letter regarding guidelines for use of immunization exemptions
It is very important to understand that their parents have a choice to get them vaccinated and protected so that they can continue go to school.
Unfortunately, some parents and even a few doctors remain confused on what it means to have a valid medical exemption.
Especially in states that have strengthened their vaccine laws, a valid medical exemption must meet certain criteria and follow “current accepted medical practice standards as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.”
That doesn’t mean there can’t be exceptions, but it also doesn’t mean that a child would typically get a medical exemption for any reason simply because someone thinks they should, even if that someone is a doctor, unless the exemption is for an immunization that is “contraindicated based on current accepted medical practice.”
Were hundreds of kids in New York denied medical exemptions?
Of course The Simpsons, although they are often ahead of their time on things, wasn’t the first cartoon to send a message about vaccines.
Remember the children being fed to the Vaccination Monster?, with John Birch and other anti-vaccination heroes of the day marching to slay it?
This etching of Charles Williams was made in 1802 as “propaganda against the introduction of vaccination as a preventative measure against smallpox.”
That was also the year of the etching by James Gillray of Edward Jenner vaccinating people, who were then turning into cows!
“Dr. Jenner, an excellent portrait, is seen in the exercise of his discovery; a workhouse lad, impressed into the service as his assistant, is holding a milk-pail filled with “vaccine pock hot from the cow.” A second doctor is in attendance, dispensing medicines to promote the effects of the vaccination, which are strongly developed on all sides. Various whimsical results are pictured in the unfortunate subjects with whom the process may be said to have “taken.” A picture in the background, founded on the worship of the golden cadf, represents the adoration of a cow.”
The satirical etchings of James Gillray
Yes, the Cow Pock etching is satire. He was poking fun at anti-vax folks.
And while he was maybe the first, Gillray certainly wasn’t the last to use cartoons to help illustrate the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement.
Vaccination against small pox, or mercenary & merciless spreaders of death & devastation driven out of society was printed in 1808.
The etching by Isaac Cruikshank depicts Edward Jenner driving “three old-fashioned doctors, practicers of inoculation” out of town.
In 1838, The Chirurgico ComicoAlphabet included this Vaccination cartoon.
There wasn’t an entry for smallpox…
How well do vaccines work?
Not well enough to inoculate us against a “Swindling Bank President…
The illustration above was made by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler in 1885.
Vaccine Cartoons That Make You Think
Who is most likely to allow misinformation to blindly lead them “off a cliff?”
These cartoons from the 1930s American Public Health Association “Health in Pictures” cartoon booklet can help us see that the anti-vaccine movement hasn’t changed much over the years.
Well maybe they have.
Anti-vax folks today aren’t vaccinating and protecting their animals either!
Many of these cartoonists, like Anne Mergen, did indeed give people something to think about.
What would you think about if you saw this cartoon?
Tom Little won the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning in 1957 for his cartoon advocating the use of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.
Vaccine Cartoons Today
Unfortunately, the anti-vaccine movement continues to give cartoonists, animators, and writers plenty of material.
Even SouthPark has done an episode about vaccines, as Cartman, who is afraid to get a shot, tries to get a religious exemption to stay in school.
And whether it was in the 1800s or the 21st Century, all of these cartoon images can provide some understanding of how people view public health and the need for vaccines.
“Nuisances and other perceived threats to health were not, of course, seen only in the pointed exaggerations of caricature; they were also available in news drawings and, sometimes, through direct personal observation. But an essential characteristic of the cartoons is their agitational character. They strove for change. To do this, they selected targets, they uncovered less visible problems, and they assigned responsibility for these problems.”
Bert Hansen on The image and advocacy of public health in American caricature and cartoons from 1860 to 1900.