When Did Vaccinations get a Bad Name?

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A Brief History

On February 23, 1954, the first mass inoculation of children against the Polio virus took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The developer of the vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk, was hailed as hero and the scourge of Polio was basically eradicated from the United States.  No longer would “iron lungs” be common, and parents did not have to live the nightmare of their children dying or becoming crippled by Polio.  As with other vaccines, the Salk vaccine saved untold millions of lives and prevented untold amounts of misery, and yet in recent years vaccines have been under fire from conspiracy theorists to the point that legal debates are being held and many parents are refusing to have their children inoculated.  Referred to as “anti-vaxers,” such vaccine deniers threaten the public health.

Digging Deeper

Vaccinations usually consist of introducing a form of the target disease into a healthy person, often a weakened form of the germ or virus or more often a “dead” form of the disease pathogen.  Then the body of the inoculated person develops a natural response and is capable of fighting off that particular infection if exposed to the disease.  In the early days of experimentation with inoculation, mainly with smallpox, some people developed the disease and died.  Even today, it is possible to have a bad reaction to a vaccine and either actually get the disease or perhaps have an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine.  These cases are rare, as evidenced by the common DTaP vaccine (against Diptheria, Tetanus and Whooping Cough) having about a 1 in 14,000 chance of a bad reaction.  Severe reactions are even less common.  Most bad reactions to vaccines are minor, such as a sore arm where the vaccine was introduced or a low grade fever.  While reports of vaccines causing Autism and other maladies are totally unfounded, although the Internet is full of such conspiracy theories.

Other harmful ideas about vaccination include people believing that since the disease is largely eradicated, there is no need for giving the vaccine, with the chance of getting the disease less than the chance of a negative reaction to the vaccine.  This thinking is incorrect and can result in a resurgence of the target disease.  Another mistaken idea with widespread believe among vaccine deniers is that the “government” or some other sinister world controlling entity is using vaccination/inoculation as a way to inject some sort of evil inspired compound into people, perhaps to control the thinking of the masses, to prevent the under classes from reproducing, or some other nefarious purpose.  The belief that vaccines are made with “unholy” ingredients such as pork products can keep some people from being inoculated, especially Muslims that suspect the vaccines are an Infidel plot.  A related belief was the root cause of the notorious prison riot at Lucasville, Ohio in 1993 when Muslim prisoners objected to testing for tuberculosis due to the belief the test included substances banned by their religion.  In many impoverished and backward areas of the World, people are susceptible to wild conspiracy theories about vaccinations and resist efforts to inoculate their populations, notably in Africa and Muslim countries.

In 2020, the World is watching as a possible Coronavirus pandemic unfolds, starting in China and spreading across the World.  Obviously, the scientific solution of such a threat to global health is to develop a vaccine, and already there are widespread conspiracy theories about either how the virus started or regarding some nefarious purpose to idea of inoculating people against the illness.

Enormous debate is taking place in the United States over mandatory vaccination for children to be allowed to attend schools.  Resistance to vaccination has led to a resurgence of Measles and could well lead to outbreaks of other diseases.  Hotly debated, there appears to be no end in the near future to this emotional debate.  Do you believe school children should have mandatory vaccinations?

Question for students (and subscribers):  Should there be religious exemptions for parents who do not want their child vaccinated?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Humphries, Suzanne and Roman Bystrianyk. Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and The Forgotten History. CreateSpace, 2013.

Miller, Neil. Miller’s Review of Critical Vaccine Studies: 400 Important Scientific Papers Summarized for Parents and Researchers. New Atlantean Press, 2016.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Daderot of the Salk Polio Vaccine plaque at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, has been released into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.