CHAPTER XIV

PRO- AND ANTI-VACCINATION PROPAGANDA

ONLOOKERS of the vaccination controversy have not failed to notice the intensity of feeling manifested on both sides. It is proverbial that strong language does not necessarily connote strength of argument, and that abuse of one’s opponents is usually a sign of a weak case. And yet a very slight consideration of the position should suffice to show that the excuse for strong language is as great on the one side as it is small on the other. Parents who had been fined, imprisoned and persecuted merely for desiring, in their view, to keep their children healthy and their consciences free from violation, might well be pardoned for making a vigorous protest. And when to the parental conviction of the iniquity of the law was added a harsh administration by officials remunerated on the "piecework" principle of "payment by results," the thing to be wondered at is that their language and conduct generally have been so restrained.

On the other hand, it is difficult to find a creditable excuse for the abuse which has been heaped upon antivaccinists. This will be manifest from the following examples:

In 1871, Mr. Marson told a Committee of the House of Commons that:—

"It is the father, not the mother, who objects to vaccination from a desire to have the family he works for as small as possible."

Dr. Seaton also told the same Committee that he:

"should like to know how many really object, without its being suggested to them, or because they are put forward in the enviable position of public characters, having silver watches given to them."

In 1867, Dr. Lankester, Coroner for Central Middlesex, suggested that parents whose unvaccinated children died from smallpox should be charged with manslaughter; and in 1903, Dr. Martin of Manchester said (in the Lancet and May, 1903) that:—

"If a child contracted smallpox after exemption from vaccination under the Conscience Clause, the parent should undergo a term of imprisonment." –

In 1884, even so enlightened a publicist as Mr. Frederic Harrison wrote in a letter to Mr. William Tebb:—

"It is indeed a question whether those who resist and instigate resistance of this most wise law [i.e., the compulsory vaccination law] should not be put on their trial for principals and accessories to manslaughter."

In 1893, the Parliamentary Bills Committee of the British Medical Association published its wish that:

"Any person who, by word or work, instigated people to defy the law, should be treated as a criminal, since he was inciting men and women to place their children in the path of a disease which attacked 36 and killed 12 Out of every hundred unvaccinated individuals."

Amongst other extraordinary things, the Association further desired that employers of labour should be prosecuted who gave work to any but revaccinated persons, and that the parents of an unvaccinated child, who contracted smallpox, should be "proceeded against criminally, seeing that the responsibility for this suffering and possible death of the child had been the direct result of neglect to secure State-granted protection."

On various occasions, Mrs. Garrett Anderson, M.D., did not hesitate to advocate the social and economic persecution of anti-vaccinists on the ground that it:

"has the advantage of being able to make itself felt where it is wanted, and where it cannot be passed on and received by deputy. No Committee can pay the fine if an unvaccinated person cannot get employment, cannot insure his life, cannot enter a benefit society, and cannot take a lodging in a desirable place." (Edinburgh Review, April 1899.)

In 1911, the Pall Mall Garzette said:—

"The agitation against vaccination is one of the most idiotic things which even our sentimentalists in their record of imbecility have ever carried on."

The following are a few other choice epithets which have been applied to anti-vaccinists: "enemies of mankind"— "vaccino maniacs"—"apostles of mischief and misery"—"a large and impenetrable body of cranks"—"ignorant firebrands"—"block-heads"—"murderous and unscrupulous knaves"—"rascals"—"noisy and mischievous fanatics"—"professional and money-making agitators"—"monomaniacs"—"platform vapourers"—"ignorant herd of nincompoops"—"irresponsible and self-seeking faddists" who promulgate "mischievous lies" and display "bigoted prejudice and minor lunacy."

Equally uncomplimentary and untruthful invectives have been used to describe the unvaccinated. Sir Dominic Corrigan compared them to "bags of gunpowder"; Dr. Wood (Edinburgh) to "fierce dogs"; Professor Huxley to "strychnine lozenges." Others have dubbed them "centres of contagion"—"kegs of nitro-glycerine"—"walking bags of pestilence"— "firebrands amongst gunpowder"—"open sewers"—"public nuisances" — "mad dogs" — "magazines of inflammable material" etc.

And this despite the fact that all these Jennerian bigots had to do, ex hypothesi, to protect themselves against these mythical monsters was to get vaccinated! The measure of their abuse may evidently be taken as the measure of their lack of faith in the virtues of their own prescription.

The "Interests" of the Vaccinators

It will be noted that among the unique assortment of epithets hurled at anti-vaccinists by their opponents was that of professional money-making and self-seeking. How such a ridiculous charge could enter the head of even the most virulent vaccinist will be for ever a mystery—it was so easy to hurl it back in the teeth of those who made it.

It is impossible to say how much money has been received by the medical profession at large from the private practice of vaccination, but official figures exist showing the extent to which the operation has been publicly endowed since its inception.

Passing over the grants to Jenner and to the early vaccine institutions, referred to in Chapter II, it will be found, by anyone who cares to look up the published records, that in the 95 years which have elapsed since vaccination was first put on the public funds in 1840 a sum of at least 11,000,000 has been paid to public vaccinators, vaccination officers and in the cost of lymph production, etc., and although it is not possible to estimate closely the amount received by private medical practitioners, there is reason to believe (from the proportion of infant vaccinations carried out by them) that their receipts during the period in question for primary vaccinations alone would amount to at least half of the above named figure. These figures relate to England and Wales only. No complete figures are available in respect of the similar expenditure in Scotland and Ireland.

The "Interests" of the Anti-Vaccinators

The "interests" of the anti-vaccinators are less easy of assessment. They have consisted of fines, imprisonments, distraints, loss of employment, legal and propagandist expenditure, etc.

The first compulsory Vaccination Act was passed in 1853, but prosecutions did not take place to any very large extent until the passing of the more stringent Act of 1867.

Official particulars of the prosecutions earlier than the year ending 29th September, 1873 cannot be had, but from that year down to the end of December 1892, no fewer than 42,207 persons were proceeded against, an average of over 2,000 per annum. Of these persons 8,265 were discharged, and 33,582 convicted. Of the number convicted, 144 were committed to prison, 24,312 were fined, 14 were bound over, and 9,112 had other punishments inflicted (payment of costs, etc.).

In 1893 the "judicial statistics" were re-modelled and from that year to 1907 (a period of 15 years) the returns show that 24,028 persons were proceeded against, an average of about 1,600 per annum. Of these persons 6,732 were discharged and 17,296 convicted. Of the number convicted 22 were committed to prison, 17,271 were fined, and 3 were otherwise disposed of.

The committals to prison mentioned in the last two paragraphs (viz. 144 and 22 respectively) relate only to persons who, when convicted, at once accepted imprisonment rather than pay, or because they could not pay, the fines inflicted. They do not include the larger number of persons who on conviction were fined, and afterwards proceeded against, and imprisoned, for non-payment of the fines inflicted. Separate statistics as to the latter are not published in the ordinary judicial statistics. By dint of questions in Parliament the following inclusive figures as to the imprisonments of both classes have been ascertained. From a return laid before the House in June 1881, it appears that from January 1st, 1868 to July 31st, 1879, 136 persons were imprisoned for offences against the Vaccination Acts; from a similar return published in 1890 the number imprisoned between July 31st, 1879 and 8th August, 1889 appears to have been 113. These two returns cover a period of 21 1/2 years and the annual average number of persons imprisoned was therefore about 12 or one every month. The figures from 8th August, 1889 to 31st March, 1899 were asked for by Mr. Lupton in March 1908 but not supplied. On that occasion, however, the Home Secretary (Mr. Herbert J. Gladstone) gave the figures for the 8 years ending 31st March, 1907, which amounted to a total of 426 imprisonments, representing an annual average of about 53, i.e., more than 4 times the yearly average during the period 1868-1889.

These figures relate to England and Wales only and not to Scotland and Ireland. There is reason to believe that there have been fewer prosecutions and imprisonments, relative to the number of parents in those countries than in England, but exact figures are not available.

Since the passing of the 1907 Act there has naturally been a considerable diminution in the number of prosecutions in England and Wales. During the 7 years 1908-1914 the number of persons proceeded against was 2,021, an average of nearly 300 per annum. Of the number of persons proceeded against in that period none was at once imprisoned for non-payment of the fines imposed, but 1,317 were fined, and 42 of the latter were subsequently imprisoned in default of paying the fines inflicted. In 1914 the persons proceeded against were 144 imprisoned by direct conviction 0; fined 92, and only 1 of the latter was subsequently imprisoned for non-payment of the fine inflicted. In the House of Commons on the 26th February, 1935, the Home Secretary stated, in reply to a question by Mr. Groves, that during the 19 years 1915-1933 an annual average of 127 persons had been proceeded against, and of these an annual average of 88 persons had been fined. He added that no information was available as to the number of persons who were imprisoned in default of payment of the fines imposed.

 

THE OPPOSING ORGANISATIONS

Perhaps no feature better illustrates the inherent weakness of the pro-vaccinist propaganda and the impregnable nature of their opponents’ position than the collapse of the various pro-vaccinist societies which have been organised from time to time, and the steady persistence and success of the antivaccination movement.

The Jenner Society

The year 1896 was celebrated by pro-vaccinists as the year of the Jenner Centenary—100 years having elapsed since Jenner performed his first vaccination on the 14th May, 1796. Dr. F. T. Bond, of Gloucester, thought the occasion appropriate for the formation of "The Jenner Society" as a memorial to Jenner, and also for the purpose of "educating" the public. His project received some support from non-medical friends, but it was, for the most part, financed and "run" by the profession. The "education" propaganda took the form of the dissemination of Jennerian leaflets and the writing by Dr. Bond of letters to the Press. The Society persistently avoided public debate with anti-vaccinists, and from start to finish it never held a public meeting of any description. The earlier annual reports of the "Executive Committee" were marked by plaintive appeals, from the pen of Dr. Bond, for more emulation of the zeal of the anti-vaccinators in the provision of funds with a view to establishing a monthly journal and "securing the services of a competent lecturer and organiser . . . for the purpose of holding meetings, giving lectures and of organising local branches of the Society." The appeals fell on deaf ears, and these developments were never realised. In a few years the funds began to dwindle and soon after the General Election of 1906 the Society ceased to have any tangible existence. Ten years saw its rise and fall.

The Imperial Vaccination League

In the early part of 1902, Mrs. Garrett Anderson, M.D., a noted lady doctor, launched a more ambitious project in the shape of "The Imperial Vaccination League." The prime object of this organisation was to secure the passing of a Revaccination Act. The Duke of Fife was originally announced as president, but later his name was dropped and the Duke of Northumberland’s name substituted. Lord Avebury’s name appeared as treasurer, Mrs. Anderson’s as hon. sec., with Dr. E. J. Edwardes as secretary, and an imposing array of vice-presidents. Like the Jenner Society the League never summed up courage to hold an open public meeting or a public debate. It was, however, even less brave than Dr. Bond’s Society in that it never published a balance sheet. Despite Mrs. Anderson’s zeal in soliciting subscriptions (the columns of the Times being readily placed at her disposal for this purpose) and the aristocratic and wealthy character of her nominal supporters, the League was not able to do more than print and distribute some small literature and organise a deputation to the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) in January 1903 for the purpose of urging him to introduce legislation making revaccination obligatory at school age. The result was anything but encouraging. Mr. Long damped the legislative aspirations of the League by advising them to extend their work into the country, and especially to assist candidates at Parliamentary elections to meet the pressure put upon them by opponents of vaccination. Mrs. Anderson made an effort to carry out Mr. Long’s advice, but as she did not apparently receive the necessary financial backing her scheme collapsed. Later on in the same year (1903) it was announced that the Government had abandoned all hope of being able to introduce a Revaccination Bill, because its hands were too full with other business. The League thereupon drafted a private member’s Revaccination Bill, which was introduced in both Houses in the early part of 1904, but the measure made no progress beyond its preliminary stages. This rebuff proved to be the League’s death-blow. Beyond distributing some literature to every Member of Parliament in 1905, nothing further was heard of the organisation. At the time of the General Election in January 1906 (which resulted in the downfall of the Conservative Government under which Mr. Long held office) the Imperial Vaccination League, like the Jenner Society, had passed into a condition in which it was unable to exert any efforts in the direction of carrying out Mr. Long’s advice as to "assisting" candidates for Parliament. In fact, the only open attempt made to defend vaccination at this election consisted of the issue, by the Association of Public Vaccinators, to every candidate of an unsigned pamphlet, entitled The Prevention of Smallpox. The public lay defence of vaccination (if organisations founded and "run" by medical practitioners can be so described) had ceased to exist.

The Association of Public Vaccinators of England and Wales

This Association was formed in November 1898 (just after the passing of the first "conscience clause") "to support and protect the interests of Public Vaccinators in England and Wales." It was at first solely a "trade union" organisation, and it did not concern itself with propaganda work until after the collapse of the Jenner Society and the Imperial Vaccination League.

Even as a professional organisation it cannot be described as a success. Although there are from 3,000 to 4,000 public vaccinators in England and Wales, the membership of the Association has never been stated to be more than 725—the figure reported at the annual meeting held on the 2 5th October, 1902. Since the war it has ceased to make any public display of its activities.

The "trade union" activities of the Association need not be discussed here. They centred round such matters as "fees," "security of tenure," etc. In January 1909, however, the Association entered the sphere of propaganda by starting a monthly organ, The Jennerian, as a six page supplement to The Medical Officer, the idea being "to present the case pro vaccination as forcibly as possible, and to meet anti-vaccinists on their own ground." Dr. Arthur Drury of Halifax, the then President of the Association, took up the Editorship of this organ and zealously busied himself in pushing the propaganda branch of his society. In fact, as the Jenner Society stood in effect for Dr. Bond, and the Imperial Vaccination League for Mrs. Garrett Anderson, so the Association of Public Vaccinators, as a propagandist body, was but another name for Dr. Drury.

In view of the primarily commercial basis of the Association it has naturally been longer lived than its purely propagandist predecessors. On the other hand, this basic characteristic has made its views on vaccination scarcely worth attention from a public point of view. It speaks much for the courage of Dr. Drury that, notwithstanding this weighty handicap, he did not hesitate to tackle anti-vaccinists in the correspondence columns of the Press, and on one or two occasions—on the invitation of third parties—he even faced them in public debate, much to the satisfaction of his opponents whose experience is that the subject never can be publicly discussed pro and con without benefit to the cause of pure blood and a free conscience.

The outbreak of the war, and the acceptance by Dr. Drury of a military appointment, led to a considerable diminution in his propagandist activities. The Jennerian under the altered title of Public Vaccination Service Notes was reduced in size from 6 to 4 pages, and its publication even in this attenuated form was carried on with considerable difficulty. Little attention was paid to the current aspects of the controversy, and but for the confession of defeat which the hauling down of this last rag of the tattered flag of Jennerism would have involved, the Notes would no doubt have been dropped altogether. Dr. Drury continued his editorship of the Notes up to the year of his death in 1927, since when they have ceased to make any public appearance. The defence of vaccination is daily becoming more difficult. The old arguments refuse to fit modern facts, as exemplified by the experience of this country since the passing of the 1907 conscience clause, and the public are growing so enlightened on the subject that sooner or later even the medical profession will grow ashamed of having to pose before them as defenders of a discredited nostrum.

The Anti-Vaccination Movement

While the propagandist activities of the Jennerians have been stamped with failure throughout, those of the friends of health and liberty have been marked, especially in modern times, by a steady series of victories which give promise of the ultimate accomplishment of all the aims they set out to achieve. Though Sir Thomas Chambers’s prediction (see p. 36) has not yet been quite fulfilled the following brief outline of the progress of the anti-vaccination movement shows that it is in a fair way of early realisation.

The organised campaign against compulsory vaccination may be said to have commenced in 1866, when Mr. R. B. Gibbs formed the first Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League in this country. After his death in 1871 the League underwent various vicissitudes until 1876 when it was revived under the presidency of the Rev. W. Hume-Rothery. In 1880 the movement was enlarged and reorganised by the formation of "The London Society for the Abolition of Compulsory Vaccination," an office was opened in Victoria Street, Westminster, with Mr. W. Young as secretary, and The Vaccination Inquirer, established by Mr. William Tebb in 1879, was adopted as the organ of the Society. The movement grew apace, and as the influence of the London Society soon became national in its character it was decided in February 1896 to re-form the Society as "The National Anti-Vaccination League." Its objects were also then defined as follows:—

"The entire repeal of the Vaccination Acts; the disestablishment and disendowment of the practice of vaccination; and the abolition of all regulations in regard to vaccination as conditions, of employment in State Departments, or of admission to Educational, or other Institutions."

In 1921 the following clause was added:—"and vindication of the legitimate freedom of the subject in matters of medical treatment."

It is impossible within the small limits of this publication to give even a summary of the activities of the modern opponents of vaccination. The archives of the National Anti-Vaccination League in general, and the columns of The Vaccination Inquirer in particular, will provide an abundance of material when that story is written. The following is a brief statement of the results of their activities:—

The First Fruits of Victory

As a result of the long and strenuous agitation of these societies, the heroic passive resistance of conscientious parents, and of the evidence given by anti-vaccinist witnesses before the Royal Commission (1889-1896), the Vaccination Acts were relaxed in 1898, repeated penalties were abolished, arm-to-arm vaccination by public vaccinators was prohibited, and nominal facilities were afforded to "conscientious objectors" to claim exemption in open court provided they could "satisfy" the magistrates of their conscientiousness. Continued agitation, assisted by the arrogant refusal of many magistrates to grant exemptions under the 1898 Act and the change of Government in 1906, led to a further relaxation of the law by the Liberal Government in 1907. Though the provisions of the English and Scotch Acts of that year were by no means as "liberal" as many had expected they would be, evidence is accumulating from all parts of the country to show that the increased facilities for obtaining exemption are steadily effecting the downfall of compulsory cowpoxing.

Proof of this statement is provided by the following table which shows that for several years past considerably less than half the children born have been vaccinated:—

ENGLAND AND WALES Percentage of Total Births

Period Vaccinated Exempted Died before Vaccination, Unaccounted for and Postponed
1893-97 67.7 ---- 32.3
1898-1902 68.4 4.2 27.4
1903-07 74.2 5.5 20.3
1908-12 56.3 25.1 18.6
1913-17 44.9 36.7 18.4
1918-22 40.0 42.1 17.9
1923-27 45.8 39.4 14.8
1928-32 40.0 45.4 14.6

The increase of vaccinations in the 1923-27 period was associated with the presence of mild smallpox in certain areas, and the consequent scare-pressure put upon parents to get their children vaccinated. Although these mild outbreaks continued into the next period, it is noteworthy that the wolf-cries of the vaccinators had ceased to have effect, the parents no doubt having discovered that the risk of their children dying from vaccination was greater than such a risk from the mild form of smallpox then prevalent.

The Decline of Departmental Tyranny

The increase of exemptions under the 1907 Acts has also been accompanied by, and has no doubt been responsible for, a slackening of vaccinal tyranny in Government Departments.

During the early part of the year 1909 the Postmaster-General (then Mr. Sydney Buxton) announced that he had decided to relax the revaccination regulation in the Post Office, so that conscientious objectors to the practice might be allowed to enter after making a statutory declaration. He was unable to relax the restriction as to primary vaccination, because that was imposed by the Civil Service Commissioners, who at that time refused to accede to his request. Shortly afterwards a vacancy arose in the highly select ranks (two) of the Civil Service Commissioners. This was filled by a friend of liberty, and in November 1910 the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Herbert Samuel) announced that he had arranged with the Civil Service Commissioners for the same "concession" to be granted in respect of the primary vaccination of candidates for Post Office employment. The "concession" is satisfactory as far as it goes. It will not be completely satisfactory until the need for a "statutory declaration" is abolished and the an-vaccinated are as free to enter the postal service as the vaccinated.

In June 1912 the Civil Service Commissioners extended the "privilege" of claiming exemption from Vaccination to almost all the candidates coming under their control, the exceptions relating to a few cases in which certain departments required that candidates should be branded with the mark of the beast.

Even more generous "concessions" have been made by the Education Department, thanks to the shortage of male teachers rather than to respect for the liberty of the subject. In 1906 the Board authorised local education authorities to accept certificates of conscientious objection from candidates for the position of teacher. As, however, this permissive regulation was not largely availed of, the Board in August 5909 forbade training colleges insisting upon the vaccination of candidates, and in August 1912 they took their courage in both hands and abolished all their regulations in regard to the vaccination of such candidates, thereby conceding the first instalment of complete freedom to public servants in the matter of vaccination. It is still optional, however, for local education authorities to insist upon the vaccination of teachers. If the board of Education really wish to secure that objectors to vaccination shall not be placed under any disability in the matter of obtaining employment as teachers, they should extend their training college regulations to every branch of the teaching profession.

Less progress has, as yet, been made in the case of the Army and Navy. Before the war recruits were not accepted unless they agreed to submit to vaccination. When conscription was introduced during the War this arrangement had perforce to be modified. Vaccination was made nominally optional. On the 22nd January, 1916, the Rt. Hon. H. J. Tennant, M.P., Under-Secretary for War, addressed a letter to Mr. H. G. Chancellor, M.P., in which occurred the following sentence:—

"You will be glad to hear that until further orders, paragraph 117 of the Recruiting Regulations will not apply in the case of men enlisted for the duration of war. Such men may, therefore, if otherwise eligible, be enlisted, even though they decline to be vaccinated."

Notwithstanding this alteration (the necessity for which could not in the circumstances have been easily avoided) so much indirect pressure and even direct but illegal persecution, was brought to bear on those objecting to vaccination, that it is doubtful whether many of the men dared to claim their legal tight to protect themselves from bodily assault. Fortunately most of these men had votes before the war, and under the new Franchise Act all of them were given votes after the war. No doubt their experience of Army "liberty" will stimulate them to support those candidates for Parliament who are willing to grant to public servants the right of refusing to sell their bodies along with their labour, a right of which they ought never to have been robbed, and would not have been robbed by any legislative Assembly possessing a real respect for the just requirements of civil government.

Abolition of Boards of Guardians

An important change in the public administration of vaccination was made in 1930. On 1st April of that year the Local Government Act, 1929, abolished the old Poor Law Boards of Guardians and transferred their vaccination duties to the Councils of Counties and County Boroughs, to be discharged as "public health" functions. In the Metropolis the Act transferred the duties in question to the Metropolitan Borough Councils. A pro-vaccinist Medical Officer of Health writing in the Local Government Journal (4th July, 1931) says "it can only be regarded as a strange and retrograde step that the local sanitary authorities in the provinces should have been passed over in favour of the county authorities.

We therefore have the previous anomaly continued of two authorities combating smallpox side by side and with officers under different control." These comments apply to "local sanitary authorities" other than "County Boroughs."

The change in the law was accompanied by the issue in 1931 of a special pamphlet by Sir George Newman entitled A Review of Certain Present Aspects of Smallpox Prevention in Relation Particularly to The Vaccination Acts 1867-1907, designed to supply the new administrators of the law with information as to the nature of their duties under the Vaccination Acts. The preface states that the duties so transferred were left unamended, and adds:—

"We must await the results of their [i.e., the local authorities] experience of the administration of those Acts before considering the necessity or otherwise of any modifications in the working of such administration. It is hoped that the review here attempted may prove useful to them in this Situation."

It would appear from the changes effected by the 1929 Act, and the comments made in Sir George Newman’s Review that the medical officials of the Ministry of Health are preparing for the collapse of compulsory vaccination in this country, and are devising arrangements to save as much voluntary vaccination as possible from the wreckage. They have, apparently, not yet realised that the whole case for vaccination, whether compulsory or voluntary, has gone. Vested interests may secure the retention for a few years of voluntary vaccination but sooner or later the pro-vaccinist officials of the State will be forced to admit that the people have shown their determination not to be vaccinated or to have their children vaccinated. Sir George Newman’s virtual admission that in future there can be no compulsion marks the approaching end of a long chapter in the history of the anti-vaccination agitation. That agitation will, however, continue until the operation itself is as completely discredited as its progenitor (smallpox inoculation) and many other similar blunders now consigned to the crowded limbo of medical delusions.

Index