Misplaced concerns about vaccination are not new: Malcolm Elliott tastes the medicine

‘Posters appeared of men and women with horns growing out of their heads.’

‘The leader of the opposition dubbed it “blood polluting quackery”.’ | Photo: by Robert Koorenny on Unsplash.

Talk of vaccination against the coronavirus leads one to think of earlier campaigns to immunise against smallpox. The word ‘vaccinate’ comes of course from the French for ‘cow’, and it was used to distinguish Edward Jenner’s method from that popularised by Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to Turkey. She had suffered from smallpox herself, and knew how much women, especially, feared the disease as disfiguring survivors, almost as much as they feared the risk of mortality. She had witnessed inoculation by old women who injected minute quantities of pus into human veins. So impressed was Montagu that she wrote of her determination to spread the method on her return to England.

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