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Articles on Smallpox

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Edward Jenner vaccinating his son, held by Mrs Jenner; a maid rolls up her sleeve, a man stands outside holding a cow. Coloured engraving by C. Manigaud after E Hamman. The Wellcome Collection.

Eradicating smallpox: the global vaccination push that brought the world ‘arm-to-arm’

The major problem in Britain and elsewhere was complacency. The early success in suppressing smallpox, and indeed eliminating it in some places, led parents to neglect vaccination.
As a printer’s apprentice in 1721, Franklin had a front-row seat to the controversy around a new prevention technique. ClassicStock/Archive Photos via Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin’s fight against a deadly virus: Colonial America was divided over smallpox inoculation, but he championed science to skeptics

When Bostonians in 1721 faced a deadly smallpox outbreak, a new procedure called inoculation was found to help fend off the disease. Not everyone was won over, and newspapers fed the controversy.
A 1975 stamp printed in St. Vincent shows U.S. presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who were all vocally pro-inoculation and vaccination. (Shutterstock)

The U.S. Founding Fathers would want us to get the COVID-19 vaccine

In the early years of the United States, several American presidents were in favour of public health inoculation and vaccination strategies.
Ever since a 1904 revolt against the smallpox vaccine, Brazil has run extremely successful vaccination programs. Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Brazil’s president rejects COVID-19 vaccine, undermining a century of progress toward universal inoculation

A 1904 revolt against mandatory smallpox inoculation taught Brazilian health officials a deadly lesson on how to vaccinate a skeptical public. Today President Bolsonaro seems to ignore that history.
An 1801 etching of a dandified physician taking a lancet to a ‘dindonnade,’ a word signifying both ‘turkey’ and ‘hoax.’ It ridicules the smallpox vaccine, which takes fluid from an animal to insert into a human. (Wellcome Collection)

COVID-19 anti-vaxxers use the same arguments from 135 years ago

The history of anti-vaccination theories can help us understand how such claims capture a popular following. The same misinformation used against 19th century smallpox vaccine is still in use today.
A 19th-century engraving depicts the Angel of Death descending on Rome during the Antonine plague. J.G. Levasseur/Wellcome Collection

How 3 prior pandemics triggered massive societal shifts

Societies and cultures that seem ossified and entrenched can be completely upended by pandemics, which create openings for conquest, innovation and social change.
Caricature of vaccination scene at the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras Hospital in London, by James Giray, 1802. Library of Congress

Video: What we can learn from a book documenting the first vaccine, for smallpox

The success of the smallpox vaccine was far from guaranteed when Edward Jenner first published his treatise in late 18th century. A curator of the book talks about what we can learn from it today.

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