Since its earliest days, vaccination has been attended by hesitation, resistance and controversy. Why did an innovation that promised to rid the world of the terrible scourge of smallpox inspire such enduring fear? When Jenner spearheaded the promotion of vaccination at the turn of the nineteenth century, he predicted the end of a disease that had taken 60 million lives in the eighteenth century alone. He was right, but it took until 1980 before the World Health Organization could proclaim “smallpox zero”. This exhibition explores the tension between the promised public-health benefits of vaccination and the reasons why resistance checked its acceptance. It seeks to understand the origins of vaccine hesitancy through various cases, both local and global, and demonstrates the legacy of those cases in contemporary vaccination debates.
This is a travelling exhibition that was displayed at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine in 2017. It is presented in partnership with the McGill University Faculty of Medicine and the Freie Universität, Berlin and is curated by Cynthia Tang and Rob Boddice.