The Vaccination Controversy: The Rise, Reign, and Fall of Compulsory Vaccination for Smallpox

By Stanley Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
A CRUEL AND DEGRADING IMPOSTURE

Among the most prominent opponents of vaccination were two members of the medical profession, one more eminent than the other. Edgar Crookshank, Professor of Comparative Pathology and Bacteriology and Fellow of King's College, London, wrote a History and Pathology of Vaccination in two volumes (1889). The Preface to the first volume described how, following some investigations into an outbreak of cowpox, he became convinced that

the commonly accepted descriptions of the nature and origins of
Cow Pox were purely theoretical […] I gradually became so deeply
impressed with the small amount of knowledge possessed by
practitioners concerning Cow Pox, and other sources of Vaccine
Lymph, and with the conflicting teachings and opinions of leading
authorities, in both the medical and veterinary professions, that I
determined to investigate the subject for myself.

The essence of Crookshank's argument against vaccination was that the power of conferring immunity to smallpox, claimed for cowpox by disciples of Jenner, was a fallacy because what was injected under the guise of cowpox was in fact smallpox. The origins of this controversy lay in the earliest period when, with supplies of cowpox very scarce for lack of suitable outbreaks to draw on, some confusion had occurred over a consignment of alleged cowpox despatched by Jenner from London to a colleague in the country. Detractors claimed that, whether by accident or from lack of scruple, Jenner had in fact supplied his friend with smallpox lymph, and that since the material in question had formed the basis for thousands of 'ingrafting' operations carried out from arm to arm right down to Crookshank's own time, any immunity ascribed to cowpox should really be ascribed to the effects of smallpox. This theory was revived in recent times but has been investigated by Baxby who finds no basis for it.1

-188-

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