NYAM event uncovers vaccine dissent in audience
Vaccine historian maps way in which paradigm was sold
To her as well as us, apparently!
Historian Lisa Rosner’s talk at that castle of established medical practice, The New York Academy of Medicine, turned out as advertised, an illustrated run through of how vaccines have been sold to the general public since Lady Mary Montagu wrote her famous letter to London from Turkey recounting how no one worried about smallpox – which had killed her brother and left her scarred for life in England, where one in three died – in Istanbul in 1717 where they had children’s parties and rubbed them with mild smallpox scabs and thus “engrafted” they were immune to strong smallpox for the rest of their lives, and this historical entertainment was followed by a run through of her novel Internet game “The Pox Hunter”, exploring the art of persuasion, where you make choices of various approaches such as ‘scare’ or ‘flatter’ to influence people to be vaccinated instead of rejecting it immediately out of unfamiliarity and mistrust, so all in all her rapidly delivered talk was a reassuring parade of successful vaccine advocacy by a cultural historian who at the end of it confirmed that she was indeed an advocate for vaccination herself, had never encountered any respectable objection to the practice, and dismissed the recent expose film VAXXED, which demonstrates that the CDC sat on and then secretly disposed of evidence in its own study that indicated that vaccinations had led to autism among black kids, as “fake news”, and said she was unfamiliar with any scientific studies which raised valid concerns, and viewed Andrew Wakefield, the much smeared English doctor and researcher who was a victim of pseudo journalist Brian Deere’s misleading reporting which resulted in the completely uncalled for loss of his medical license, as precisely the scoundrel that Deere had implied, when in fact as an indignant member of the audience pointed out Wakefield’s study had not asserted that vaccines caused autism, but merely found that there seemed to be a correlation that emerged from a study of digestive ailments in 12 young patients that should be looked into further, so all in all members of the audience at the Academy who had hoped for guidance on the tortured topic of whether there was anything to worry about with vaccines beyond the standard vaccine boosting by the established purveyors were disappointed, although Science Guardian did press upon her a printout of the exemplary page of Dr Suzanne Humphries’ site enumerating the reasons which have so far emerged from medical studies that review is called for in many areas of this highly remunerative field, where a single vaccine is reputed to be worth $1 billion in commercial dues payoff for the maker, even though it seemed unlikely that Dr Rosner would read it later with any receptivity, given that she is like most of us a fully paid up member of the human race who will very naturally find it extremely hard to change long held assumptions, when they have been part of her entertaining public speaking, teaching and Web activity for some time, but at least, we thought, she might come up with more appropriate answers to the widespread and growing skepticism which is threatening the routine creation of herd immunity to many diseases, mild as well as dangerous, including whooping cough and measles, which critics note had been largely suppressed with escalating hygiene before any vaccine arrived, though a suggestion that vaccines for them could be foregone drew a loud gasp of “Oh no!” from the audience, and a remark from an MD present of “Has anybody here seen an iron lung recently?” in reply to any idea at all that polio could be conquered without a vaccine, although the Salk vaccine notoriously had to be withdrawn after causing too many cases of polio even though it was a supposedly killed agent, which presumably demonstrated how “attenuated” vaccines can transform into live threats through mutation, killing at least 200 in that instance, a phenomenon possibly accounting also for the controlled BMJ study showing that of some school age children who had contracted whooping cough, 86% were fully vaccinated up to date, all of this information contained in the very readable and calm account of her scientific doubts about the wisdom of using vaccines without careful review felt by Suzanne Humphries, a practicing doctor who has investigated the situation fully over thousands of hours, she says, by in the first place at least reading the limited amount of science available on the defects of this massively established and promoted practice that the speaker, like most of us, takes for granted is beyond reproach, while criticism is blocked by political prejudice and social action, including the strong aversion to impolitely challenging speakers built into such institutions as the highly respectable Academy, where all present, even the questioners, felt it was merely good manners to curb public dissent from the views of a charming presenter trying to enlighten them in lively fashion with the basics of the historical advance of the ruling paradigm, even though she has published an expensive tome entitled Vaccination and its Critics, a Documentary and Reference Guide, though apparently the critics she had in mind were lay objectors before the age of modern science.
Lady Mary’s Legacy: Vaccine Advocacy from the Turkish Embassy Letters to Video Games
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Speaker: Lisa Rosner, Distinguished Professor of History, Stockton University
On April 1, 1717, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote her famous “Letter to a Friend” from the Turkish Embassy, describing the process of smallpox inoculation. With that letter, she became one of the earliest vaccination advocates, joined over the next three hundred years by celebrities and scientists, pop culture icons and heads of state, patients and game developers. This talk will explore the colorful and controversial history of vaccine advocacy, the most successful public health measure its beneficiaries love to hate.
My talk will explore the colorful and controversial history of vaccine advocacy, the most successful public health measure its beneficiaries love to hate. And it will feature a new interactive demo of The Pox Hunter: A Digital Game for the History of Medicine, proud to be funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Lisa Rosner is Professor of History at Stockton College in New Jersey. She is drawn to the seamy side of medical history through her love of murder mysteries, anatomy drawings, and Scotch whisky.
Lisa Rosner is Distinguished Professor of History at Stockton University. She is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Recent publications include The Anatomy Murders (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) and Vaccination and Its Critics (ABC-CLIO, 2017). She is the project director and game runner for The Pox Hunter, designed with Eduweb and developed in partnership with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, http://poxhunter.wordpress.comPox and the City: Edinburgh
A Digital Role-Playing Game for the History of Medicine
Blog Post Saturday, March 31, 2012
What’s in a Name? Or, Will Vaccination Turn Your Children into Cows?
When we think of vaccine, we think of injections. But when 18th century medical men thought of vaccine, they thought of cows. That’s because “vaccinae” is Latin for “of or pertaining to cows”, and the word entered the modern medical lexicon through the title of the famous 1798 work by Edward Jenner, “An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, a Disease discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the Cow-Pox.”
Many generations of admiring doctors and historians have noted this title without observing that Jenner was engaged in a bit of sleight of hand. The disease he described was, indeed known as the Cow Pox by those who had bothered to give it a name: the dairymaids and farmers who were most susceptible to it. The disease, as he noted, appears on the nipples of cows, and then is communicated to the dairymaids, and then “through the farm, until most of the cattle and domestics feel its unpleasant consequences”(1). It was Jenner, perhaps after consultation with his medical mentors, like John Hunter, who gave it the Latin name, starting with Variolae – the Latin medical term for smallpox — and adding to it the designation Vaccinae – of or from cows. Borrowing from other 18th century medical nomenclature, which listed first the genus, then the species of the disease, the term variolae vaccinae indicated that the genus, or general class of disease, was variolae, pox, while the species was vaccinae of, by, or pertaining to cows. Thus Jenner’s name did double duty: it both conferred a learned Latin pedigree on a disease of “cattle and domestics” and used conventions of scientific nomenclature to establish the relationship between smallpox and cowpox.
This learned convention was incorporated into medical journals like the Edinburgh-based Annals of Medicine, which put in the 1800 index next to Cow-Pox, See Vaccine. And now that Jenner had brought it to their attention, practitioners began to “see vaccine” everywhere. It turned out that this disease of Cow Pox, and its attendant immunity from smallpox, had been part of rural folklore throughout southern England. Doctors located a similar set of beliefs in the West Country. The “country people of Ireland,” it turned out, were also “well acquainted with the disease”, and gave it the name of Shinah (2). The eminent medical professors at Edinburgh University were hard-pressed to explain why their benighted countrymen should have so unaccountably failed to develop so useful a folk-belief, and concluded that the cows of Scotland’s dairy districts, like Fife, simply did not get “the genuine vaccine disease”(3). Eventually, though, they were able to find a gentleman, “a most ingenious artist,” who could remember that his parents had owned a farm near the Scots town of Jedburgh, and that his mother, “who occasionally assisted the maids in the concerns of the dairy, never had smallpox, though frequently exposed to the disease” (4).