Tag: William Osler

Would Osler Stand for Anti-Vaccine Folks Using His Famous Quote?

I often find myself having to reset my irony meter after reading some of the anti-vacccine memes and posts that people send me.

Like when anti-vaccine folks quote the Founding Fathers

Would Osler Stand for Anti-Vaccine Folks Using His Famous Quote?

Or they quote William Osler…

You remember William Osler, don’t you?

In 1910, as smallpox outbreaks continued and anti-vaccine folks made it harder to get folks vaccinated, he wrote:

“I would like to issue a Mount-Carmel-like challenge to any ten unvaccinated priests of Baal. I will go into the next severe epidemic with ten selected, vaccinated persons and ten selected unvaccinated persons – I should prefer to choose the latter – three members of Parliament, three anti-vaccination doctors (if they can be found), and four anti-vaccination propagandists.

And I will make this promise – neither to jeer nor jibe when they catch the disease, but to look after them as brothers, and for the four or five who are certain to die, I will try to arrange the funerals with all the pomp and ceremony of an anti-vaccination demonstration.”

William Osler on Man’s Redemption of Man

Want to vote on whether Osler would pick Jim Meehan to be one of the anti-vaccination doctors for his challenge?

Anyway, the Osler quote that Meehan posted, about not taking medicine, doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.

Osler wasn’t telling folks to not take any medicines.

“Osler himself prescribed relatively few drugs, his basic armamentarium consisting of quinine for malaria, digitalis for heart failure, opiates for pain and coughs, and iron and arsenic for anemia.”

Would Osler stand by his famous quote today?

He just meant that folks should avoid medicines that weren’t necessary and had no chance of working. Medicines, at the time, which often did more harm than good.

While you likely could apply his statement to the overuse of antibiotics, he certainly wasn’t talking about vaccines!

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William Osler on Vaccines

Sir William Osler, MD is considered the Father of modern medicine.

He established the first medical residency program at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the system of teaching medical students at the patient’s bedside, so that they got direct clinical experience.

William Osler on Vaccines

Not surprisingly, Osler was a big supporter of vaccines, at least the vaccines that were available at the time – smallpox and typhoid.

Dr. William Osler's vaccine challenge in his 1911 essay Man's Redemption of Man.
Dr. William Osler’s vaccine challenge in his 1911 essay Man’s Redemption of Man.

In 1910, in the article Man’s Redemption of Man, he wrote:

“I would like to issue a Mount-Carmel-like challenge to any ten unvaccinated priests of Baal. I will go into the next severe epidemic with ten selected, vaccinated persons and ten selected unvaccinated persons – I should prefer to choose the latter – three members of Parliament, three anti-vaccination doctors (if they can be found), and four anti-vaccination propagandists.

And I will make this promise – neither to jeer nor jibe when they catch the disease, but to look after them as brothers, and for the four or five who are certain to die, I will try to arrange the funerals with all the pomp and ceremony of an anti-vaccination demonstration.”

The New York Times described Osler’s Challenge as “Rather a grisly joke. But there would be a grislier reality everywhere if the anti-vaccinationists had their way.”

The New York Times noted that there would be a grislier reality if the anti-vaccinationists had their way.
The New York Times noted that there would be a grislier reality if the anti-vaccinationists had their way.

No one took him up on his challenge.

That shouldn’t be a surprise though, as it hadn’t been that long since Dr. Immanuel Pfeiffer, in 1902, argued that smallpox wasn’t contagious. He was allowed to visit the Gallop’s Island smallpox hospital in Boston. A few weeks later, he was found to be critically ill at his home – with smallpox.

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