Article ID: CBB949210665

Historical Lessons on Vaccine Hesitancy: Smallpox, Polio, and Measles, and Implications for COVID-19 (2023)


Vaccine hesitancy continues to pose a formidable obstacle to increasing national COVID-19 vaccination rates in the US, but this is not the first time that American vaccination efforts have confronted resistance and apathy. This study examines the history of US vaccination efforts against smallpox, polio, and measles, highlighting persistent drivers of vaccine hesitancy as well as factors that helped overcome it. The research reveals that logistical barriers, negative portrayals in the media, and fears about safety stymied inoculation efforts as early as the 18th century and continue to do so. However, vaccine hesitancy has been markedly diminished when trusted community leaders have guided efforts, when ordinary citizens have felt personally invested in the success of the vaccine, and when vaccination efforts have been tied to broader projects to improve public health and social cohesion. Deliberately cultivating such factors could be an effective strategy for lessening opposition today, when COVID-19's distinctive characteristics make addressing vaccine hesitancy more urgent than it has ever been.

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Authors & Contributors
Axelsson, Per
Báguena Cervellera, María José
Caianiello, Silvia
Dolan, Brian P.
Fantini, Bernardino
Geissler, P. Wenzel
Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam
Laboratorio dell'ISPF
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Asclepio: Archivo Iberoamericano de Historia de la Medicina
Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Los Libros de la Catarata
Manchester University Press
Ohio University Press
University of Pittsburgh Press
Passigli Editori
Public health
Medicine and society
Vaccines; vaccination
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Salk, Jonas Edward
Zahalon, Jacob
Sabin, Albert Bruce
Wallich, Abraham
Rivière, Lazare
Andrea Verga
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
19th century
17th century
18th century
20th century, early
Great Britain
South Africa

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