Recent discussions around the mass distribution and application of vaccines, long a stalwart of public health programs, have mainly targeted COVID-19 these last years. A perusal of news sites and social media, especially in the United States and Europe, would suggest that COVID-19 vaccine campaigns are uniquely unsettling—that previous campaigns for widespread inoculations were neither emphatic nor divisive. Yet this is far from the first time doctors, public health officials, and members of the public have clashed over the necessity and matter of vaccine distribution.
The concept of bestowing immunity through a small amount of infectious material has existed for centuries; often, it has meant exposing well persons to sick ones. While the process may have occurred as early as 200 BCE, the first widely known and coordinated vaccination campaign began with English physician Edward Jenner in the second half of the eighteenth century. Having observed that milkmaids, among other cases, exposed to cowpox seemed to have greater protection against contracting smallpox, Jenner inoculated a young boy with material from a cowpox sore and then exposed him to smallpox. By doing so, Jenner established the idea of a standardized vaccination and began writing and speaking on its promotion.