Tag: smallpox

Who Was John Birch?

It is well known that the anti-vaccination movement is as old as the history of vaccines itself.

John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.
John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.

Don’t believe me?

Soon after Edward Jenner had developed his vaccine, in addition to simply convincing people that he had come up with a method of preventing small pox that was better than inoculation, he had to overcome those who were dead set against the idea of vaccination.

“Do not the men, the heroes—who first dared to stand forth to arrest the progress, and stop the fatal havoc of this most dreadful and destructive monster, and at length have bravely subdued and put him to flight with all his mighty host, merit an obelisk created to their fame, with their names inscribed upon it, in indelible characters, to be held in grateful remembrance through all future generations?

And are not these names Moseley, Rowley, Birch, Squirrel, Lipscomb?”

The Vaccination Monster

Among them was John Birch.

Arthur Allen, in his book, Vaccine, calls John Birch one of “Jenner’s earliest foes.”

Who Was John Birch?

John Birch believed that he had serious reasons to object to Jenner's smallpox vaccine.
John Birch believed that he had serious reasons to object to Jenner’s smallpox vaccine.

John Birch worked among the medical households of King George III’s children.

Specifically, he was the “Surgeon extraordinary to the Prince of Wales” at Spring-gardens. This is in contrast to the “Physicians in ordinary” that were on the regular staff of the British Royal Household and were in regular attendance.

And he believed that he had such “serious reasons” to object to Jenner’s smallpox vaccine that he wrote a report about it in 1804, which secured his place in anti-vaccine history.

Why was he against Jenner’s small pox vaccine?

His main argument was that “Inoculation, so perfectly understood, and so successfully managed as it was, ought not be abandoned for a mere Experiment…”

He left out the part that he made a lot of money inoculating patients against small pox. He also treated small pox patients – with electric current.

The only true statement here was that his arguments were fallacious.
The only true statement here was that his arguments were fallacious.

Not surprisingly, Birch also used many of the same arguments that we hear today:

  • vaccines are dangerous (they can have risks, but are very safe)
  • vaccines cause a host of vaccine-induced diseases (they don’t)
  • vaccines sometimes don’t work (yes, they don’t work 100% of the time, but they do work very well)

He also leaves out the part about small pox inoculation being a lot riskier than vaccination, although either was certainly better than being at risk for a natural small pox infection. Actually, he doesn’t leave that out. Birch goes out of his way to claim that inoculation is a safer practice!

Why should folks believe him?

Because he says that he was right to stick with a treatment that others had already given up on – “here I was unwilling to give up Experience for Experiment, wanting nothing more safe or certain than Mercury…”

“In all investments, and in all enquiries, Trust must ultimately prevail.”

John Birch 1804

Fortunately, the truth prevailed.

Russia became the first country to ban inoculation or variolation, transitioning in favor of vaccination with Jenner’s small pox vaccine, in 1805. This is around the same time as Birch published his anti-vaccine pamphlet. Other countries followed their lead.

Birch was wrong about mercury and he was wrong about the small pox vaccine.

The John Birch Society

Although some of the member of the John Birch Society are associated with some anti-vaccine ideas and conspiracy theories, they have nothing to do with Jenner’s John Birch.

The John Birch Society was founded by Robert Welch and named after John Morrison Birch, a missionary who is said to have been the first victim of the Cold War.

What to Know About John Birch

John Birch was one of the first anti-vaccinationists and fought against Edward Jenner’s new small pox vaccine.

More About John Birch

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Best Books to Help You Research Vaccines

There are many books to help you get educated about vaccines and avoid getting influenced by vaccine scare stories and anti-vaccine talking points.

Some can even help you understand why you are afraid of vaccines.

Unfortunately, if you simply search Amazon for books about vaccines, you are going to be hit with a list of anti-vaccine books. These are books that push their own made-up, so-called alternative immunization schedules and misinformation about vaccines to scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

Best Vaccine Books

Which books about vaccines have you read?

Did you even realize you had so many choices?

These books about vaccines can help with your research about vaccinating and protecting your family.
These books about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can help with your research about vaccinating and protecting your family.

Some of my favorite vaccine books that can help you with your research on vaccination and making the right decision for your child include:

  • Autism’s False Prophets. Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure
  • Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine
  • Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks
  • Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines
  • The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis
  • Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America
  • Deadly Choices. How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All
  • Do Vaccines Cause That?!
  • Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine
  • Immunity by William E. Paul, MD
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation
  • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
  • The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear
  • Panicology: Two Statisticians Explain What’s Worth Worrying About (and What’s Not)
  • Polio. An American Story
  • Polio Wars: Sister Kenny and the Golden Age of American Medicine
  • Pox. An American History
  • Smallpox and the Literary Imagination, 1660-1820
  • Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit
  • Twin Voices: A Memoir of Polio, the Forgotten Killer
  • Vaccinated. One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases
  • Vaccination: A History from Lady Montagu to Genetic Engineering
  • Vaccine. The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver
  • The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease
  • Vaccines and Your Child. Separating Fact from Fiction
  • Your Baby’s Best Shot. Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives

How many of these books about vaccines have you read?

What To Know About Vaccine Books

If you were scared away from vaccinating your kids because of a book you read or something you saw on the Internet, consider reading a few of these vaccine books that are based on evidence, not fear.

More Information on Vaccine Books:

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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: