Vaccines and Society

Vaccination is a medical procedure with unique ethical, legal, and cultural implications. This timeline highlights these issues.

Public opinions about vaccination include varied and deep-seated beliefs, a result of the tension between divergent cultural viewpoints and value systems. Several key cultural perspectives on vaccination stem from individual rights and public health stances toward vaccination, various religious standpoints and vaccine objections, and suspicion and mistrust of vaccines among different U.S. and global cultures and communities.

In part, the story of vaccination and society is one of controversy. Controversy over vaccination began almost with the birth of smallpox vaccination in the early 1800s. Not long after Edward Jenner published results of his successful use of material from cowpox sores to induce immunity to smallpox, some governmental institutions began to establish compulsory vaccination, often for schoolchildren and military members. Given that vaccination was a new medical practice that carried risks, it is not surprising that objections arose to mandates. Objections to vaccination continued into the 20th century, with renewed controversies about mandates, animal and human experimentation, and vaccine safety.

Dramatic events, including tragedies, have contributed to the social context of vaccination. Fatalities from contaminated vaccines led to public outrage and eventually governmental regulation of vaccines and other drugs. And the celebrated 1925 Nenana-to-Nome dog sled race that carried antitoxin to diphtheria-stricken children generated enduring national attention.

Legal issues play their part in the history of vaccination, from Supreme Court cases delineating the right of the state to require vaccination of its residents in certain contexts, to the issue of medical liability for vaccine safety.

Source PDF test: WHO_disease_monitoring_2008.pdf


Did You Know?

The British Vaccination Act of 1898 provided a conscience clause to allow exemptions to mandatory smallpox vaccination. This was the first use of the term “conscientious objector.” More

Park’s Diphtheria Campaign

In 1921, William H. Park launched a massive program in New York City to immunize schoolchildren with diphtheria toxin-antitoxin mixture. More