Tag: Benjamin Franklin

What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Wait, we had vaccines when Ben Franklin was around?

You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.
You can learn what Benjamin Franklin thought about vaccines from his autobiography.

That was a long time ago.

What Did Benjamin Franklin Say About Vaccines?

Well, we had variolation

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

The Benjamin Franklin quote many anti-vaccine folks are using these days (do anti-vaccine folks get daily talking points to use?) doesn’t really have anything to do with vaccines though, at least not in the way that they think it does.

“The Franklin quote he nodded to on Tuesday, ironically, means the opposite of what Paul was arguing. When Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety,” he was opposing the Penn family’s attempt to carve out an exception for themselves from the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s attempt to tax their lands for the collective good of frontier defense. The liberty Franklin was defending was the liberty the rest of us deserve now, too — liberty to choose to protect ourselves.”

Saad B Omer on Rand Paul is wrong: Vaccines are no threat to liberty

It should be clear that Ben Franklin’s quote shouldn’t be used to attack vaccine mandates. If anything, it can be used to attack free-riders and those who skip or delay vaccines and try to hide in the herd!

“It is a quotation that defends the authority of a legislature to govern in the interests of collective security. It means, in context, not quite the opposite of what it’s almost always quoted as saying but much closer to the opposite than to the thing that people think it means.”

Benjamin Wittes onBen Franklin’s Famous ‘Liberty, Safety’ Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century

Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin did famously talk about vaccines, or at least smallpox variolation.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin

He got a little temporary safety, avoiding the side effects of variolation, but what were the consequences? What did he lose?

What do you lose when you make decisions about vaccines based on vaccine misinformation?

What do folks like Rand Paul have to gain by speaking out against vaccines?

More on Benjamin Franklin and Vaccines

Benjamin Franklin and Vaccines

Benjamin Franklin has a long list of contributions to science and medicine, from bifocals to the lightning rod.

He didn’t invent a vaccine though.

So what’s his connection to vaccines?

Benjamin Franklin and Vaccines

His son Francis Folger Franklin died of smallpox when he was just four years old.

He hadn’t been inoculated against smallpox yet.

Benjamin Franklin wrote about his son who died of smallpox in his autobiography.

Benjamin Franklin later wrote in his autobiography that:

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Like Roald Dahl‘s letter following the death of his daughter from measles, it is a good reminder to get your kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

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