Benjamin Franklin championed childhood inoculation against the deadly virus of his era

January 14, 2022

January 14, 2022

Should I vaccinate my children or not? Millions of parents are asking themselves this question as children return to school amid an unprecedented spike in coronavirus cases fueled by highly contagious omicron variant. But it’s not a new question, and the lessons learned 286 years ago by one of the nation’s founders, Benjamin Franklin, offer a resounding answer for parents in 2021: Vaccinate your children.

Franklin was a longtime champion of variolation — as the primitive form of vaccination was then called — against smallpox, the deadly virus of his era. Franklin embraced the scientific advances of the Enlightenment, and as publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette he thought it was his civic duty to warn the citizens of Philadelphia about the virus and encourage them to take variolation. As early as 1730, his newspaper announced that a smallpox epidemic in Boston had killed a third of its victims, while observing that only those who had been inoculated had survived.

While this claim was factual, the Gazette’s pro-variolation stance was controversial. Primitive by contemporary standards, variolation placed live smallpox virus into the bloodstream of a healthy individual. Fluid was taken from the pox of a sufferer and scratched into the arm or thigh of the inoculant. (Contemporary vaccines contain the cells of dead viruses, but in the Colonial era physicians had no choice but to use live virus.) Several days of illness usually followed, but most inoculants survived and achieved permanent immunity.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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