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Smallpox: A Great and Terrible Scourge banner
Smallpox: A Great and Terrible Scourge written in white lettering with a black border Public Health Service Historian History of Medicine Division National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health The Threat written in red letters. Variolation written in red letters. Vaccination written in red letters. Resistance to Vaccination written in red letters. The 20th Century Threat written in red letters. Campaign to Eradicate written in red letters. Obstacles and Struggle written in red letters. Success written in red letters.

Resistance to Vaccination

Resist the forcing of dead corruption into the blood of children.”
— Homer Bartlett Wilson

“It is no longer medicine but for the most part destruction.”
— William Young

As governments began to compel their citizens to be vaccinated, resistance to the procedure grew. Anti-vaccination societies became especially vocal during the late nineteenth century. Many anti-vaccinators believed that vaccination was, as George Bernard Shaw put it, a “filthy piece of witchcraft” which did more harm than good.

A group of men, women, and children, black and white, observe a physician as he vaccinates the tattooed left arm of a burly young man.

Detail of a physician as he vaccinates the tattooed left arm of a burly young man.

Governments often provided vaccination free of charge to the poor.

Opponents of compulsory vaccination were varied. Some saw the issue in terms of civil liberties, arguing that governments should not force citizens to undergo any medical treatment against their will. Others believed vaccination was dangerous, insisting that “thousands...are killed annually by vaccination.” And still others, especially in India, found the use of a vaccine derived from cows to be unacceptable.

Cover of Killed by vaccination : a few facts for the consideration of legislators, and others, who uphold the useless, cruel, and inhuman law of compulsory vaccination, under cover of which, as has been stated in the House of Commons, children are slaughtered by wholesale compiled by William Young The opening page of A Brief narrative of eight years’ suffering caused by vaccination by Homer Bartlett Weston. The second line says Copy of a letter to the Governor of the State of Massachusetts, U.S.A.

The words a few facts for the consideration of legislators, and others, who uphold the useless, cruel, and inhuman law of compulsory vaccination, under cover of which, as has been stated in the House of Commons, children are slaughtered by wholesale  from Killed by vaccination compiled by William Young.

The opening statement Sir, twenty thousand dollars could not comensate B. F. Weston for the sufferings he has already endured through vaccination from A Brief narrative of eight years’ suffering caused by vaccination.

The debate over vaccination forced governments to assess the rights of the individual against the rights of the community. Did an individual have the right to resist vaccination when his or her actions put a community at risk? Increasingly governments said no.



A street scene in Jersey City, New Jersey, depicting compulsory vaccination during the smallpox scare.

Detail from a street scene in Jersey City, New Jersey, depicting compulsory vaccination during the smallpox scare.

In America, compulsory vaccination was introduced on a state by state basis.