In 1774 King Luis XV, died of smallpox. Vaccines hadn’t been invented yet at the time but the process of using dead cells from infected patients to inoculate against smallpox was sweeping Europe at the time because not dying is fucking awesome. At the time, inoculation was illegal in France. You can’t inoculate someone if you don’t have a sick person to get some scabs from and the idea of running around during an outbreak, smearing pus on healthy people didn’t add up for some folks. Which, I get. Also, sometimes people would confuse chickenpox with smallpox and get inoculated against the wrong disease, which led to some hilarious results, and by that, I mean dying. After Louis died, his grandson, Louis XVI said, “I ain’t goin out like no bitch!” and had himself and the rest of the royal line inoculated. Holy Science, Batman! It worked. To commemorate the occasion, women’s hat makers started cranking out gaudy headpieces with a bunch of shit that symbolized being inoculated called the pouf à l’inoculation.
Much like people right now are not protecting themselves from preventable diseases because famous people made it trendy, the pouf became the headdress of the season and made inoculation trendy in France. Too bad for Louis and his wife Marie Antionette, there is no way to inoculate against guillotines, which they found out in 1793.
In 1853, England and Wales declared vaccines to be mandatory. This didn’t sit well with the lower class because they were already stomped on enough by the upper class and now they were being told what to do with their bodies. The courts were like, “We’re trying to keep everybody alive, you idiots” but common sense is hard to hear when it isn’t your idea. Enforcement of the law was less than stringent, especially in backwater towns. This led to many people claiming to have been vaccinated even though they hadn’t. Then a wave of smallpox would come through town and people would start dropping like flies and everyone would be all like, “See. Vaccines don’t do shit.”
In 1871 another vaccination act was passed that appointed vaccination officers to make sure people were complying with the law and common sense since they obviously hadn’t. Between 1869-1884 61 people were arrested for not vaccinating their kids. in 1868, Sir James Simpson came up with what he called “The Leicester Method” for combating smallpox. That is, isolating infected people in a hospital when they got sick so they wouldn’t spread the disease. Fuck, this next part makes my brain hurt: Everyone who worked in the smallpox hospital had to be vaccinated. Also, if someone got sick, people in that neighborhood were encouraged to get vaccinated. Basically, the Leicester Method was “I won’t get vaccinated but other people should to keep me safe.” Also, quarantining sick people was the exact thing everyone on the planet had always done for smallpox.
In 1869, townsfolk started the Anti-Vaccination League and passed ordinances for the Leicester Method. Then they all patted themselves on the back for ending smallpox once and for all. The “Gubment” was all, “Cool story bro. Get your shots or you’re going to be arrested.” Parents were more than happy to go to jail for not vaccinating their children, because who doesn’t love being a martyr, especially in a mass hysteria situation? In the spring of 1885, with about 5,000 people waiting on their court dates for non-compliance of the law, the city of Leicester decided to have a protest. They put out ads in newspapers for other anti-vaccination leagues in other towns to come to join the protest. Estimates of the turnout range anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 protesters. People paraded down the street with sick cows to symbolize the cowpox vaccine. They even borrowed the gallows from the courthouse and put it on a cart with an effigy of Edward Jenner (the vaccine’s inventor) swinging from it. The dummy eventually got torn down and tossed around the crowd like a beach ball until its headless body was eventually taken to the jail, where it was locked up.
After the demonstrations everyone got together and agreed to vote out anyone in office who was pro vaccine. Vaccination rates among children went from around 94% to about jack shit. Leicester became famous for being the place where nobody gets vaccinated. Between 1872 and 1901 there were 17 outbreaks of smallpox in Leicester.
Due to public outcry from protesters, a commission was formed in 1896 to determine if vaccines were effective, once and for all. To the surprise of nobody, the commission determined, “Yeah, they work.” But they went ahead and added a conscientious objector clause to the Vaccination act that allowed people to opt out of getting vaccinated.
Over in America, Massachutes became the first state to have mandatory vaccinations in 1809. Over the next couple decades vaccines had reduced the number of outbreaks to the point where people started saying, “Vaccines are stupid because look, we don’t have smallpox.” People stopped getting vaccinated, leading to a public health crisis when smallpox came back with a vengeance in the 1870’s.
In 1879 a guy name William Tebb started the Anti-Vaccination Society of America. In 1893 he published a book called “Vaccination and Leprosy,” claiming that vaccines caused leprosy.
In 1901 Boston was getting hit with a smallpox outbreak. Health officials were trying their best to get everyone vaccinated but were facing tough resistance from the anti-vaccination community so the chairman of the board of health dared anti-vaxxers to go hang out in the smallpox ward at the hospital. Eventually the dare was taken up by a doctor named Immanuel Pfeiffer, who claimed to be able to heal folks by laying his hands on them. He spent some time hanging out in the smallpox ward and then went home with a smug look on his face. Health officials immediately went looking for Pfeiffer. They found him five days later, holed up at his wife’s farm, covered in smallpox. Local authorities quarantined the farm and made anyone who came into contact with Pfeiffer get vaccinated. Somethefuckhow, Pfeiffer managed to survive and used that as proof that he was right all along.