Tag: variolation

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

What Is a Vaccine?

You know what a vaccine is, right?

The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.
The word vaccine comes from the vaccinia virus that was in the original smallpox vaccine.

The flu shot you get each year is a vaccine.

Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

Immunization: The Basics

The smallpox shot that Edward Jenner developed was a vaccine.

Vaccine Definitions

While that is an easy enough definition to understand, that there are many different types of vaccines does make it a little more complicated.

There are:

  • Live-attenuated vaccines – made from a weakened or attenuated form of a virus or bacteria
  • Inactivated vaccines – made from a killed form of virus or bacteria
  • Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines – made from only specific pieces of a virus or bacteria
  • Toxoid vaccines – made to target a toxin that a bacteria makes and not the bacteria itself

And of course all of these types of vaccines work to produce immunity to specific diseases – vaccination.

Immunization: A process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination. This term is often used interchangeably with vaccination or inoculation.

Immunization: The Basics

What other definitions are important to know when you talk about vaccines?

  • active immunity – immunity that you get from having a disease (natural immunity) or getting a vaccine and making antibodies
  • adjuvant – a substance that helps boost your body’s immune response to a vaccine so that you can use a minimum amount of antigen, reducing side effects
  • antibodies – protective proteins that you make against antigens
  • antigens – specific substances (can be part of a virus or bacteria) that trigger an immune response
  • attenuation – a virus or bacteria that is made less potent, so that it can produce an immune response without causing disease
  • elimination – getting rid of a disease in a specific area
  • endemic – the baseline level of disease in an area
  • eradication – getting rid of a disease everywhere (smallpox)
  • epidemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a large geographic area
  • herd immunity – when enough people in a community are protected and have immunity, so that disease is unlikely to spread
  • immunity – protection against a disease
  • incubation period – how long it takes to develop symptoms after you are exposed to a disease
  • outbreak – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over a small geographic area
  • pandemic – an increase in the number of cases of a disease over several countries or continents
  • passive immunity – temporary immunity that you get after being given antibodies, either via a shot of immunoglobulin or a mother’s antibodies are transferred to her baby through her placenta
  • placebo – classically defined as “a comparator in a vaccine trial that does not include the antigen under study”
  • quarantine – isolating someone so that they don’t get others sick
  • titer – an antibody count that can often be used to predict immunity

Got all of that?

So what about variolation, the process that was used before Jenner developed his smallpox vaccine? Was that also a vaccine?

It did produce immunity to smallpox, which is the basic definition of a vaccine, but still, variolation is typically concerned an immunization technique and not a vaccine.

More on Vaccine Definitions

Why Aren’t Vaccines Mentioned in the Bible?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that vaccines aren’t mentioned in the Bible.

It’s the same reason antibiotics, airplanes, and pasteurization aren’t mentioned – they weren’t invented yet.

Remember, Edward Jenner first vaccinated James Phipps with his smallpox vaccine in 1796.

Why Aren’t Vaccines Mentioned in the Bible?

But even before the smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, we had variolation. While we have evidence of smallpox infections as early as the 2nd millennium BC, the earliest use of variolation is from the 10th to 18th Century, well after the Bible was written.

Why would vaccines be mentioned in the Bible?
Why would vaccines be mentioned in the Bible?

Still, it shouldn’t be a surprise that some anti-vaccine folks use the Bible and religion against vaccines.

“I just decided to just google what the bible says about vaccines. There’s nothing in the bible that talks about vaccines. I just want you to think about that. So if God knew in the future that he was going to create these amazing things that were going to be the best scientific advancements, like oh, my God, they’re so great, why isn’t there anything, any inkling of talk about these things called vaccinations coming into being later to save people? If that was really God’s plan and they’re so amazing, then why isn’t it in there at all? Maybe there’s a chapter where they talk about something like an injection, like this health injection, right? Like, why didn’t God talk about that if he knew that it was going to come and save the world?”

Brittney Kara

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that they do it to try and sell you stuff, like Brittney Kara’s “Awakening Reset Program.”

Or Isagenix products.

Wait, is Isagenix mentioned in the Bible?

“You can be confident that Isagenix is committed to your success by offering you the opportunity to live a healthy, clean, and lean lifestyle—and to create wealth while doing so.”

Are multi-level marketing companies?

Brittney Kara is not the first anti-vaccine person to say that God does not support vaccines and she likely won’t be the last.

“The society of the 21st century, just as many societies and cultures in the history of human civilization, use religion as an excuse for wars, discrimination, and now for vaccination refusal.”

Pelčić on Religious exception for vaccination or religious excuses for avoiding vaccination

She may be the first to say that “believing in vaccines is a mental disorder.”

Not sure where she gets that…

Still, despite the availability of religious exemptions to vaccines in most states, it is important to understand that no mainstream religions oppose vaccines.

“For its part, Catholic social teaching entails a duty to vaccinate in order to protect the vulnerable.”

Paul J. Carson on Catholic Social Teaching and the Duty to Vaccinate

In fact, most teach about a duty and moral obligation to vaccinate.

“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us. It is heartbreaking to think that three million children die each year from diseases that we can prevent.”

Nelson Mandela (2002 Vaccine Conference)

And if there is a moral obligation to get vaccinated, then what does that say about those who push propaganda that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?

More on Vaccines and the Bible

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Smallpox Edition

Anti-vaccine folks really like comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated kids.

Why?

They think that unvaccinated kids are healthier, even though we know that they aren’t, they simply get more vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated – Smallpox Edition

And we have known it for a long time. In Leicester, for example, it was known that folks weren’t vaccinated were much more likely to die of smallpox than those who were. In fact, 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%!

And like many other diseases, if they did get sick, those who were vaccinated against smallpox often got a very mild case, especially as compared to those who were unvaccinated. We can see that even now thanks to photographs taken by Dr. Allan Warner, the Resident Medical Officer to the Isolation Hospital in Leicester.

Vaccinated vs unvaccinated with smallpox.

Dr. Warner’s photos have been published time and again, but they can originally be found in the New Sydenham Society’s Atlas of 1904.

Vaccinated vs unvaccinated sisters with smallpox.

There are many photos and many stories from the time that were testament to the fact that vaccines work.

“A boy, aged 14 years, unvaccinated, sickened with small pox on April 14th. He was removed to hospital on April 18th, where he had a severe confluent attack. The father consented to his wife and three children being vaccinated, stating that personally he would not be vaccinated, but would be a “test,” to see if there was anything in it.

Ten days later his daughter, aged three years, developed a small-pox eruption she had less than one hundred spots and never appeared ill. No other person in the house suffered from small-pox except the father, vaccinated in infancy, his eruption appearing fourteen days after the son had been removed to hospital. A photograph of the father and daughter, taken on the twelfth day of the father’s eruption, may be seen in Plate VI. [see below] and requires no comment.”

This father was the only one in the family who skipped getting vaccinated, and he got smallpox.
This father was the only one in the family who skipped getting vaccinated, and he got smallpox.

And there are also stories of folks skipping vaccines already. Remember, the anti-vaccine movement is even older than the first vaccines. It started with variolation. By the time these photos were taken, anti-vaccine folks had already marched on Leicester. A march that didn’t turn folks away from getting vaccinated.

The Vaccination of Contacts part of the Leicester Method is usually left out by anti-vaccination folks.
Folks were still getting vaccinated using the Leicester Method in Leicester.

For those who think getting smallpox was all about poor nutrition and hygiene, how do you explain these photos? Why such different outcomes for people in the same family, if it wasn’t their vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine clearly worked.
It was the vaccine, as this report on an outbreak of smallpox in 1903 clearly showed.

And that’s why the anti-vaccine movement “slowly faded from view” in the early 20th century.

Too bad we let them come back…

What to Know About Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated with Smallpox

It should be clear that in the era of smallpox, like with other vaccine-preventable diseases, you clearly wanted to be vaccinated.

More on Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated with Smallpox

The Hospital Rock Engravings of Farmington, Connecticut

Vaccines are a lot safer than they used to be in the old days.

No, I’m not talking about the “crude brew” that was the original DTP vaccine.

This older vaccine used more antigens than the DTaP vaccine that replaced it, so could cause more side effects. Even before that though, there was less oversight of vaccine manufacturers in the early 20th century. This could lead to vaccines that were contaminated or which simply didn’t work.

That certainly was a problem with the early smallpox vaccine, which is typically considered to be the most dangerous vaccine ever routinely used.

Variolation and Smallpox

But even before the smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796, we had variolation.

While the smallpox vaccine involved the cowpox virus, variolation actually infected someone with smallpox. The idea was to give the person a milder form by exposing them to a weaker, or attenuated, form of the virus.

They got this weakened virus from the smallpox scabs of someone who had already recovered and:

  • blowing dried smallpox scabs into their nose
  • applying pus from smallpox scabs to a small puncture wound on their skin

Variolation worked, giving the person immunity to smallpox – if they survived.

Unfortunately, about 1 to 3% of people who underwent variolation died.

And people who had recently undergone variolation could be contagious, leading to smallpox epidemics.

So why did folks undergo variolation if they had a chance of dying from the procedure?

It’s simple.

A natural smallpox infection was so much more deadly. Up to 30% of people who got smallpox died, and many people eventually got caught up in the regular smallpox epidemics that plagued people in the pre-vaccine era.

The Hospital Rock Engravings of Farmington, Connecticut

We don’t have to worry about smallpox anymore.

Well, not about natural smallpox infections, since smallpox was eradicated back in 1980.

And there are many other diseases that we get vaccinated against, with it being extremely easy to get that protection, especially compared to what folks did in the old days.

Do you know how far folks went to make variolation safer?

“Every year, thousands undergo this operation, and the French Ambassador says pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England…”
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu On Small Pox in Turkey (1717)

They actually went to smallpox hospitals to get vaccinated, remaining in quarantine for up to three weeks so that they wouldn’t get others sick.

In Farmington, Connecticut, two doctors established the Todd-Wadsworth Smallpox Hospital and had a lot of success with variolation.

Patients were no longer starved before inoculation, and many had begun to doubt the efficacy and safety of vomiting, sweats, purges, mercurials (toxic mercury salts such as calomel), and bleeding which had previously weakened both inoculees and those who “took the pox in the natural way.”

Charles Leach, MD on Hospital Rock

There, up to 20 patients at a time stayed in quarantine to get variolated, as a smallpox epidemic hit nearby Boston.

Patients engraved their name on Hospital Rock in the late 1700s near Farmington.
Patients engraved their name on Hospital Rock in the late 1700s near Farmington. Photo by Keith Wilkens

Between 1792 and 1794, many who got variolated wrote their names on what is now known as Hospital Rock.

“Many have supposed that the names on this rock were those who had did of the small-pox, but this is a great mistake. Every name on the rock is that of a person who was living when the name was placed there. Norris Stanley lived to own ships which were captured in the war of 1812 by Algerian pirates and still later to receive from the United States an indeminity therefor amounting to a large sum.”

James Shepard on The Small Pox Hospital Rock

The nearby town of Durham seemed to go a different way.

Instead of an inoculation hospital, they had a pest house to quarantine folks with natural smallpox infections.

Adding to the history of smallpox in Connecticut – a smallpox burying ground in Guilford.

Why wasn’t variolation popular everywhere? Folks didn’t have to wait for the first vaccine for the anti-vaccine movement to get started.

What to Know About Smallpox and the Hospital Rock Engravings

Hundreds of people got safely inoculated against smallpox and left their names on Hospital Rock near Farmington, Connecticut just before Edward Jenner discovered the first smallpox vaccine.

More on the Hospital Rock Engravings

The Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

In May 1895, a smallpox outbreak hit west Plano.
1895 Fort Worth Gazette

North Texas is no stranger to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

After all, this was the site of a large measles outbreak in 2013 at the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Eagle Mountain International Church.

And it has also been the site of chicken pox parties, mumps outbreaks, and a few clusters of unvaccinated kids.

Mostly though, parents in North Texas do a good job of getting their kids vaccinated and protected.

The Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Of course, that’s not what’s keeping smallpox away.

Routine smallpox vaccination, which was typically given when children were about 12 months old, ended in 1972 in the United States. And smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980.

“Today, Preston Lakes is a quiet, manicured neighborhood in an affluent area of Plano. Almost 120 years ago, it was the site of one of Plano’s darkest hours.”

Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Driving around Plano now, it is hard to imagine that this city once battled smallpox.

While that is probably true of any modern city, the curious thing is that the area in and around Plano wasn’t settled until the early 1840’s, at which time an effective smallpox vaccine had been available for over 40 years.

Remember, Edward Jenner developed his smallpox vaccine in 1796. And before that we had variolation.

“On May 6, 1895, Plano City Council called an emergency meeting, establishing a strict quarantine “to protect our citizens from this loathsome disease.” Anyone within the area between what is now Spring Creek Parkway, Park Boulevard, Coit and Preston Roads was forbidden to leave. An armed guard patrolled the border.”

Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Farwick Collinsworth, whose family owned large portions of what is now West Plano, lost his 11-year-old granddaughter in the smallpox outbreak.

Next, his wife and two sons died.

Then two more grandchildren and a nephew.

All together, at least 15 people died in the smallpox outbreak of 1895 in Plano, Texas.

“In 1806 the first smallpox inoculations were administered in San Antonio de Béxar. After initial resistance to the experiment, the townspeople came to accept the procedure, and the threat of smallpox was lessened for a time.”

Texas State Historical Association Public Health

While the Plano outbreak is certainly sad, it is truly tragic that smallpox was already a vaccine-preventable disease at this time.

History of Smallpox in Texas

Still, 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.

So why weren’t folks vaccinated against smallpox in the late 19th century in North Texas?

In 1901, the editor of The Texas Medical Journal discusses the "prejudice against vaccination" in Texas at the time of a widespread smallpox epidemic.
In 1901, the editor of The Texas Medical Journal discusses the “prejudice against vaccination” in Texas, at the time of a widespread smallpox epidemic.

While some people talking about issues with vaccine availability, remember that this is just after almost 100,000 people participated in the Leicester Demonstration March of 1885 to protest the smallpox vaccine.

While Leicester is quite a ways from Plano, a little bit closer to home we had the Laredo Smallpox Riot.

“When he realized that Laredoans were not fully embracing the quarantine program, especially the mandatory inoculation, he asked the governor to send in Texas Rangers. A contingent of rangers under Captain J.H. Rogers arrived on March 19, 1899, and began enforcing the health official’s orders more vigorously than some of the city’s residents thought proper. Milling protestors pelted rangers and health workers with harsh words and harder rocks, leading to a couple of minor injuries.
The next day, when the rangers got word that someone had telephoned a local hardware store to order 2,000 rounds of buckshot, the officers began a house-to-house search of the part of town where the order had come from. The situation soon deteriorated into a riot, with the rangers killing two citizens and wounding 10 others. It took cavalry from nearby Fort McIntosh to restore order.
The inoculation and fumigation program continued, and by May 1, Dr. Blunt lifted the quarantine in the border city.”

Frontier Medicine: Texas Doctors Overcome Disease and Despair

And we had folks pushing homeopathic vaccines, anti-vaccine talking points about the “evil results from vaccination,” all contributing to a “prejudice against vaccination.”

The Texas Medical Journal, in 1902, describes how other areas have controlled or eliminated smallpox with vaccines - but not Texas.
The Texas Medical Journal, in 1902, describes how other areas had controlled or eliminated smallpox with the vaccine – but not Texas.

It maybe shouldn’t be surprising that the last smallpox outbreak in the United States was in Texas – in 1949. Eight people got sick, and one person, Lillian Barber, died.

But Texas wasn’t at the center of the anti-vaccine fight against protecting kids against smallpox. In Utah (the McMillan bill), Minnesota, and California, laws were passed banning mandatory vaccination for attending school. While the governors of Utah and California vetoed their bills, in Utah, legislators overcame the veto.

What came next?

Outbreaks of smallpox.

In 1906, AMA President William J. Mayo, a Minnesota physician, charged that his state’s “inability to enforce vaccination” had unleashed a smallpox epidemic, infecting 28,000 of the state’s citizens – “all due to a small but vociferous band of antivaccination agitators.”

Pox: An American History

That was over a hundred years ago.

What comes next?

Will we let today’s “vociferous band of antivaccination agitators” guide  vaccine policy and put our kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, as they push the same old anti-vaccine propaganda and fight against vaccine mandates, which are only necessary because they scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?

Let’s hope not.

What to Know About the Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Fifteen people died in Plano, Texas in 1895, even though a smallpox vaccine was available at the time that could have prevented this and most other smallpox outbreaks and epidemics. Tragically, the fight against its use mirrors much of what we see in today’s anti-vaccine movement.

More on the Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

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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