Tag: smallpox

The Leicester Method and Smallpox Eradication

Did you know that the Leicester Method helps prove that the small pox vaccine didn’t really help eradicate small pox?

It’s true – well, at least it’s true among “mythical history of vaccination” types.

A Brief History of Smallpox

First developed in the 1870s in Leicester, England to help control smallpox, many people don’t have a good understanding of how it worked, or they wouldn’t use it as an anti-vaccine talking point.

“There is very good reason why the “Leicester Method” is so often quoted by those who are opposed to compulsory vaccinated; for the essential characteristic of the “Method” – that which indeed constitutes its most distinctive feature – is that it professes to suffice for the control of small-pox without resort to universal vaccination, the one measure which is regarded as all-important in most places.”

C. Killick Millard, MD – Medical Officer of Health for Leicester 1904

To understand the Leicester Method, it is important to understand the history of smallpox and smallpox eradication:

  • 2nd millenium BC – earliest evidence of smallpox infections
  • 10th-18th Century – use of variolation
  • 1746 – London Small-Pox and Inoculation Hospital established
  • 1796 – Edward Jenner‘s smallpox vaccine (using cowpox virus)
  • 1840 – 1871 – Vaccination Acts in Great Britain made smallpox vaccination increasingly compulsory
  • 1898 – Vaccination Act of 1898 in Great Britain adds a conscientious objector clause
  • 1967 – Intensified Eradication Program
  • 1977 – last case of wild smallpox
  • 1980 – smallpox declared eradicated

On the way to eradication, some folks fought first inoculation and then smallpox vaccination – the birth of the anti-vaccine movement.

Although the Anti-Vaccination League and Anti-Cumpulsory Vaccination League had been protesting vaccination for years, Leicester had become “a stronghold of anti-vaccination.”

Those anti-vaccine feelings were evident in the Leicester Demonstration March of 1885, which has been described as “one of the most notorious anti-vaccination demonstrations. There, 80,000-100,000 anti-vaccinators led an elaborate march, complete with banners, a child’s coffin, and an effigy of Jenner.”

The Leicester Method and Smallpox

So does the Leicester Demonstration March help prove that folks in Leicester refused to have the vaccine any more?

The Leicester Method never attempted to do entirely without smallpox vaccination.
The Leicester Method never attempted to do entirely without smallpox vaccination. Adapted from Wellcome Library

Did the people in Leicester simply rely on good sanitation and a system of quarantine?

Not exactly.

Originally formulated in 1877, The Leicester Method was modified by Dr. C. Killick Millard, the Medical Officer of Health for Leicester, who tells us that the patients were quarantined in the Leicester Small-pox Hospital, where all of the staff were vaccinated so that they wouldn’t get smallpox!

And most people in Leicester were already vaccinated. That changed in 1883, when it went changed a “well-vaccinated town” to a “Mecca of the anti-vaccinationists” after a new Board of Guardians was elected on an “anti-vaccination ticket.” So even though vaccination dropped after that point, most people in town were already vaccinated and protected against smallpox.

Another thing that people don’t discuss about the Leicester Method? The fatality rate in Leicester in the late 19th century and early 20th century was 1 to 2% for those who were vaccinated. What was it for folks who were unvaccinated? It was 8 to 12%!

Why are both so low? That is because, at the time, it was “the mild type of of small-pox which has prevailed and still prevails in Leicester.” Historically, smallpox had a fatality rate of 30% or higher. But that was for variola major, not variola minor – the mild type of smallpox.

What else do folks leave out about the Leicester Method? That in addition to relying on good sanitation and a system of quarantine, they also “induced” contacts to get vaccinated!

The Vaccination of Contacts part of the Leicester Method is usually left out by anti-vaccination folks.
The Vaccination of Contacts part of the Leicester Method is usually left out by anti-vaccination folks.

The Leicester Method is starting to sound more familiar.

It sounds an awful lot like the ring vaccination method that was ultimately used by the Intensified Smallpox Eradication Program to eradicate smallpox.

Other Myths About Smallpox

Have you heard any of these other myths about smallpox?

  • Getting Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine would turn you into a cow.
  • Edward Jenner’s eldest son did not die after his father vaccinated him with his smallpox vaccine – he died of tuberculosis.
  • Smallpox vaccination campaigns caused smallpox outbreaks. They didn’t. The smallpox vaccine doesn’t even contain the smallpox virus – it is made with the vaccinia virus.
  • Smallpox was a mild disease. It wasn’t. As late as 1900, 894 people died of smallpox in the United States. Globally, at least 300 million people died of smallpox during the 20th century.
  • Vaccine experts wanted to reintroduce the smallpox vaccine in 2002 in response to bio-terrorism threats after 9-11. While some did, others, like Dr. Thomas Mack and Dr. Paul Offit, didn’t.
  • Dr. Thomas Mack didn’t think the smallpox vaccine helped eliminate smallpox. He did, stating that “Prophylactic vaccination of contacts is an important containment strategy,” and just didn’t think we needed mass vaccination campaigns.

And of course, there is the myth that the smallpox vaccine didn’t work to eradicate smallpox, which is ridiculous. Vaccines work.

What To Know About the Leicester Method and Smallpox

The Leicester Method of dealing with smallpox does not support the idea that smallpox was eradicated solely with good sanitation and quarantine folks with smallpox. They used vaccines too.

More Information on the Leicester Method and Smallpox

Founding Fathers on Vaccines

The Founding Fathers presenting a draft of the Declaration of Independence.
The Founding Fathers presenting a draft of the Declaration of Independence. By John Trumbull – US Capitol

What did the Founding Fathers think about vaccines?

While some folks like to claim that the Founding Fathers would have been against vaccines, most experts think that claim is nonsense.

What we know is that the seven key Founding Fathers, which include:

  • John Adams – was innoculated against smallpox (before Jenner‘s vaccine was available), as were his wife and children
  • Benjamin Franklin – was vaccinated and regretted not vaccinating his own son, who died of smallpox
  • Alexander Hamilton – supported George Washington’s plan to inoculate the Continental Army against smallpox
  • John Jay – having a brother and sister that were both blinded by natural smallpox infections, you would expect that he would be in favor of vaccinations and he did indeed inoculate his own children Maria, Nancy and Sally Jay against smallpox
  • Thomas Jefferson – conducted his own smallpox vaccine trials
  • James Madison – signed the Vaccine Act of 1813 – An Act to encourage Vaccination.
  • George Washington – had smallpox and later mandated that every soldier in the Continental Army had to be inoculated against smallpox

Without speculating on what they would have thought of today’s immunization schedules and anti-vaccine movements, it is safe to say that they supported the use of the vaccines that were available to them at the time to protect themselves and their families.

For More Information on the Founding Fathers and Vaccines: