Small Pox and Vaccination by Albany Poyntz

If any thing could excuse the exercise of arbitrary power on the part of a Government, it would surely be in the act of compelling parents to vaccinate their children; but the aversion to vaccination being still only too common among certain classes of the people. Yet surely the law which punishes parents for ill-usage of their children, might be extended to punish their leaving these helpless creatures exposed to the infection of pain and disfigurement? Jenner is decidedly one of the greatest benefactors of the human race; for the vast increase of population in the different countries of Europe is ascribed, by many political economists, to the safeguard of vaccination, which has preserved more lives since its introduction, than the terrible wars of the present century have destroyed.

In England, this admirable discovery was far more readily adopted than in France; where, however versatile in fashions and governments, any improvement tending to benefit the human race is slowly and cautiously accepted. In the reign of Louis XIV, the introduction of yeast in the making of bread met with general opposition; and it required the interference of the legislature to secure its adoption. The introduction of bark and emetics was also attended with violent opposition; and inoculation introduced from Turkey into Western Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montague, found great difficulty in establishing itself in France.

It was not, however, surprising that parents should hesitate about giving their children a loathsome disease; before it became certified by long experience that the virulence of the disorder was considerably lessened by preparation; so as to secure a mother against the terrible self-reproaches arising from the loss of a child under the inoculated malady.

In England, more particularly in the county of Gloucester, from time immemorial cows were subject to a contagious disease, which infected the hands of the milkmaids, who were observed never to suffer from the small-pox. This surmise being confirmed by experiment, Dr. Jenner established himself in the county of Gloucester; where, by inoculating people with vaccine matter, he secured them against the small-pox.

So far from turning his discovery to pecuniary account, as most others would have done, Jenner nobly proclaimed it to mankind, calling upon all philantrophists to share his triumph.

The Duke de Rochefauld-Liancourt having witnessed the effects of vaccination in England, introduced it into France, and did more for its propagation than the slow deliberations of the Parisian Schools of Medicine. Dr. Pinel, however, tried experiments at the Hospital of the Salpétrière, with perfect success; while Dr. Aubert was despatched by Government to England to report upon the subject. The result was favourable. Matter was imported from England in the month of May, 1800, when thirty-eight children were vaccinated at the Hospital of La Pitié; and commissions were instantly instituted throughout France. Jenner had, however, his opponents. In London, it was denounced from the pulpit, as an infringement on the dispensation of Providence; and in France, Doctors Vaume, Chapon and others pronounced vaccination to be injurious to the human constitution, and capable of reducing man to the condition of a brute, by the introduction of animal virus into the blood. As if we resembled a calf or sheep the more for having swallowed a mutton chop or veal cutlet.

With a few rare exceptions, vaccination has proved a security against the small-pox, and the practice ought consequently to become universal. But old women are still to be found with instances of children who have died of convulsions after vaccination; as if that were the origin of their illness and death.

Among the lower orders, a prejudice prevails that an inferior kind of vaccine matter is provided for them; and whenever their children exhibit symptoms of disease or deformity, they comfort their self-love by attributing it to the influence of vaccination. “Such maladies were unknown in their families, till the madness of introducing matter from the body of a stranger into that of their child conveyed also the germs of disease.”