Chapter 4

Smallpox and the First Vaccine

. . . they lye on their hard matts, the poxe breaking and mattering, and running one into another, their skin cleaving to the matts they lye on; they turne them, a whole side will flea off at once.

– William Bradford (1590–1657), 1634

. . . Fresh vesicles subsequently formed around the vaccination pocks coalescing with them and causing them to spread. They developed also on the face, head, body, and in the mouth, the later prevented the child from suckling, and it died exhausted on the 45th day after vaccination.

– Case of a healthy child after vaccination, March 13, 1891

Try re-vaccination—It never will hurt you,
For re-vaccination has this one great virtue:
Should it injure or kill you whenever you receive it,
We all stand prepared to refuse to believe it.

– From a circular signed “The Doctors,” 1876



Human smallpox, also known as Orthopox variola, was a notorious infectious viral entity that served up a febrile illness and painful, oozing skin lesions (pox) to its victims. The disease not only disfigured but often led to death.

The most deadly feature of the new towns was the close proximity of human beings to each other. For example, the report of a health officer for Darlington in the 1850s found six children, aged between 2 and 17, suffering from smallpox in a one-roomed dwelling shared with their parents, and elder brother and an uncle. They all slept together on rags on the floor, with no bed. Millions of similar cases could be cited, with conditions getting even worse as disease victims died and their corpses remained rotting among families in single-roomed accommodations for days, as the family scraped together the pennies to bury them.

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