Vaccines and the Smallpox Epidemic Research Paper

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Development in Modern Medicine

In spite of the fact that vaccinations were able to eradicate smallpox, anti-vaccinationists continue to make arguments in opposition to the vaccines because, as Mariner, Annas and Glants show, they base their views on their own personal experience, which can include “bad reactions to earlier vaccinations” (582). The individual experiences of people like Henning Jacobsen, who claimed that vaccinations were neither effective for them nor healthy, may have been exceptions to the rule (they always exist), or they may have been politically motivated to oppose what may have been perceived as overreach on the part of state and federal governments in their attempt to eradicate a disease by ordering the population to vaccinate. In terms of freedom of choice, Jacobsen’s arguments certainly resonate with Americans who support the concept of liberty. However, in today’s world, where safety and security are also viewed as important in maintaining order in society, there is some agreement among most that what is in the best interest of the common good is what individuals should follow. This utilitarian principle would seemingly support the idea of vaccination on a large scale and even forced vaccination in cases where emergency necessitates it—such as an outbreak of an epidemic. Kaufman points out, for instance, that “vaccination had proven to be effective in preventing smallpox and it was widely accepted and used in the years from 1802 to 1840” (463). For Jacobsen, this fact hardly mattered: his own personal liberty was at stake—and that was more important to him than the spread or eradication of smallpox. With that consideration in mind, this paper will show why opposition to smallpox vaccination would continue to grow even though researchers showed that it truly was the only effective weapon against the disease.

Not every individual is a firm believer in science, and not every member of the public will accept the information presented them by government agencies or medical professionals.

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People tend to base their beliefs on their cultural inputs, their personal experience, and sometimes their fears and irrational assumptions. Suspicion regarding vaccinations is nothing new—nor unique. Today’s anit-vax movement emerged partially in response to fears that vaccines contained heavy metals that were causing children to develop autism. Anti-vaccination fears in the past had their own bases—and not all of them were scientific. Some of them were cultural and legal: for example, Mariner et al. note that “the Depression had shattered the belief that individuals could always take care of themselves” (584) to such an extent that President Roosevelt felt the government should step to take make sure every citizen was being cared for. It was in a way the beginning of the welfare state in which personal responsibility was subsumed by the federal government. This type of submission to authority was welcomed by those in need: many did in fact require some kind of intervention to help make ends meet. For others, however, it cut against the cultural grain of the American tradition. American had fought for independence in the 18th century and had established a Constitution guaranteeing people a certain degree of autonomy in their life decision. If someone chose not to vaccinate even in the face of overwhelming evidence that vaccines helped end the spread of disease, that person was likely to base his perspective on the need to preserve individual autonomy, individual choice, and individual right to liberty.

In 1902, Massachusetts granted its city boards of health the permission to mandate smallpox vaccinations for the sake of public safety. In theory, this permission was no different from Congress’s Patriot Act following 9/11, which granted permission to the State’s various intelligence agencies to….....

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Works Cited

Kaufman, Martin. "The American Anti-Vaccinationists and Their Arguments." Bulletin for the History of Medicine 41(1967): 463-78

Mariner, Wendy K., George J. Annas, and Leonard H. Glantz. "Jacobson v

Massachusetts: it’s not your great-great-grandfather’s public health law." American Journal of Public Health 95.4 (2005): 581-590.

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