Address before English Annual Session of the American Medical Liberty League

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Address before English Annual Session of the American Medical Liberty League  (1927) 
by Lily Loat
1927, by the founder of the National Anti-Vaccination League


Our own fight against vaccination has been a long and arduous battle. While individuals and small groups were fighting for freedom in this matter as far back as the time of the passing of the compulsory vaccination act of 1853. the definitely organized struggle started with the passing of the harsh vaccination act of 1867, which aimed at compelling every parent of a child to have that child vaccinated within three months of birth. Those who refused could be ordered by the magistrates over and over again until the child attained the age of fourteen to have it vaccinated and could be fined for each refusal to comply with such magistrates’ orders. This law was passed on the assurance of the leaders of the medical profession that vaccination was perfectly safe and a certain protection against smallpox. Although the sanitary condition of England had improved very considerably since the disastrous smallpox epidemic of 1838 (and in this connection for some idea of London in the seventeenth and earliest part of the eighteenth century I would refer you to Mrs. Dorothy George’s book, "London Life in the Eighteenth Century").

Although there was certainly a gradual improvement, things were still bad, and between 1853 and 1867 there were three fairly severe smallpox epidemics. The supporters of vaccination played on the fears of the legislators of that day and secured the vaccination act of 1867 without much trouble. But in doing so they lit a fire of resistance that has never been quenched amongst men and women of the Anglo-Saxon race. That fight for freedom from medical tyranny in this particular matter has been waged in England for nearly sixty years and it is going on still.

For many years it was confined mainly to the poorer classes. Only a very few men of intellect and distinction championed our cause. It was natural that most of the disasters due to vaccinattion should fall on the poorer classes and that those classes should publish them while the upper and middle classes would be more likely to keep such things to themselves. But by degrees what might be called the artisan class, the smaller shopkeepers and the lower middle classes became the backbone of the movement. They paid large sums in fines, they had their goods seized and sold when they could not or would not pay fines. Those who had no goods or would not let them be seized went to prison, some were ruined, and some emigrated to avoid ruin. There are men living in America today whose parents left England on account of the harsh vaccination acts. The public saw honorable, upright men appearing again and again before the magistrates and many began to ask what it could mean when such men were willing to go to such lengths to save their children from the operation. Inquiry was usually followed by conversion to our side and the side of resistance went higher and higher. Defense funds were formed all over the country to assist resisters either to pay the fines inflicted on them or to keep the wives and families when the men went to jail. In more than one case a widow went to prison for carrying out her husband’s injunction never to have the children vaccinated. Elections for boards of guardians — the public authority that had the administration of the vaccination law in its charge — were fought on the vaccination question, and by the year 1898 at least one-fifth of the 600 or more boards in England were pledged not to enforce the law.

Four very important things happened between the passing of the vaccination act of 1867 and the passing of the act of 1898, which contained the first conscience clause.

The first was the smallpox epidemic of 1870-72, which carried off 44,000 persons in England and Wales and proved to hundreds of thousands of people that vaccination is not a protection against smallpox, for that epidemic occurred when 97½ per cent of the people over two and under fifty had either had smallpox or been vaccinated, as was stated by Sir John Simon, chief medical officer to the Privy Council, in his evidence before the select committee which in 1871 inquired into the vaccination act of 1867.

The second very important event was the passing of the great public health act of 1875. The sanitarians had been preaching for years that unless the laws of health were observed no country could be free from any form of zymotic disease, while the vaccinators said, in effect, that you could be as filthy as you liked, only be vaccinated and you would be saved from smallpox. The epidemic of 1870-72 showed that the sanitarians were right and this great act which governs practically all sanitary observances in England today was passed by Parliment some two years after the close of the epidemic.

The third great event was the conversion of two men high up in the medical profession to our side, namely, Dr. Charles Creighton and Professor Edgar M. Crookshank. There had been many other registered doctors who had fought vaccination in England, right from the time Jenner introduced his discovery, but they were not of the standing of these men and they did not write such comprehensive, logical, dispassionate and scientific books as these two men did.

Dr. Creighton was asked about the year 1884 to write the article on vaccination for the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He agreed to do so, but instead of contenting himself with the usual stock statements he went right back to Jenner’s own writings and to contemporary documents. He searched the pro- and anti-vaccination literature of many countries and came to the conclusion that vaccination is a "grotesque superstition." He wrote to the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica and said: "If you want an apologetic article, I am not the man to write it." The editor promised to publish whatever he wrote and so in the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia the article on vaccination is an anti-vaccination article. About the same time Creighton wrote a little book called "Cowpox and Vaccinal Syphilis" and a year or so later a larger book called "Jenner and Vaccination."

In 1887 Dr. Edgar M. Crookshank, who at that time was professor of pathology and bacteriology at King’s College, was asked by the government to investigate an outbreak of cowpox in Wiltshire. Sir James Paget drew his attention to Creighton’s work, evidently hoping that Crookshank would refute it, but the results of his laborious investigations are contained in two large volumes entitled "The History and Pathology of Vaccination", in which he says that the credit given to vaccination belongs to sanitation and isolation and that nothing would more redound to the credit of the medical profession than to give up their faith in vaccination.

Although written some forty years ago, these books have never been answered.

The fourth great event in this period was the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into certain aspects of the vaccination question. This commission was appointed in 1889 and sat for seven years. It issued six reports and reported finally in 1896.

When they were appointed nearly all the commissioners were strongly in favor of vaccination and although most of them never surrendered their faith in the operation, after hearing evidence from the anti-vaccinists, they unanimously agreed that at least repeated prosecutions for the same child ought to be stopped. Two of them issued a minority or dissent report, which is, in effect, an anti-vaccination document. Even the majority commissioners went so far as to admit that vaccination was not a permanent protection against smallpox and that it had done injury — injury that was not inconsiderable in gross amount. They suggested that in the case of genuine objectors the compulsory law should be relaxed, but this was in the hope of stopping the agitation against vaccination rather than from any kindly feeling for the objectors.

The result of the commissioners’ report was the vaccination act of 1898. In its first form this did not contain a conscience clause, but it did contain a clause forbidding repeated penalties for the same offense. An election at the town of Reading, fought on the vaccination question, induced the government to insert a conscience clause into its vaccination act. This was against the wishes of a large number of its own supporters, but although they lost the election, they carried out their promise and passed the bill with the conscience clause included.

This conscience clause, which the anti-vaccinists had opposed, knowing that its passage into law would greatly delay the repeal of the compulsory clauses of the vaccination acts, was a very poor affair. Bench after bench of magistrates refused to grant exemption, no matter how strong the applicant’s reasons might be. Men went to court as many as seven times and then failed to get exemption and were subsequently prosecuted for not having their children vaccinated.

The league agitated and agitated until the act of 1907 was passed by the Liberal government which came into office after the election of 1906, during

which the anti-vaccinists had worked strenuously and had got pledges to vote for the repeal of compulsion from over 300 of those returned to Parliament.

That act under which an objector had to make a statutory declaration of his objection to vaccination before the baby is four months old, has resulted in the exemption of nearly five million children in England and Wales under sixteen years of age. These are mainly the children of the middle and working classes, as we call them, but we have support in the higher ranks of society. The duchess of Hamilton’s seven children are all exempted and two of them have King George and Queen Mary as sponsors. Lady Maud Warrender, who also moves in royal circles, paid a fine sooner than have her son vaccinated. Lady Isabel Margesson, sister of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, is a member of the league.

Among scientists our most notable supporters were Alfred Russel Wallace and Herbert Spencer.

We have fifteen or sixteen registered medical men as vice-presidents of our league and there are some thirty others who more or less sympathize with our work. That the number is not more is easily understood. Medical students in England do not study the vaccination question. It is taken for granted at all the medical schools and no student dare question what he is taught. He has to cram a vast amount of book knowledge into his brain and he has neither the time nor the inclination to study any subject not needed for his examinations. When he qualifies he goes into general practice or becomes a specialist, but as the majority of the vaccinations in England are done by the 4,000 public vaccinators, most of the doctors see very little of the operation. They do not realize the harm done by it and their minds have been closed up when they were students.

Of literary men, George Bernard Shaw is our most noted supporter.

Important developments are in sight in England. Early this year the government appointed a committee of inquiry into vaccine lymph. It is certain that the present glycerinated calf lymph has caused deaths from "sleepy-sickness" in England, two London professors having brought to the notice of the government seven of such cases at the end of the year 1922. At the Paris Academy of Medicine in July, 1925, doctors discussed deaths from this disease which had occurred shortly after vaccination in Holland and other European countries. At the beginning of this year there was a conference at The Hague under the auspices of the health committee of the League of Nations, which discussed many matters in connection with smallpox, vaccine lymph, etc., and finally decided to ask each country represented there to appoint a committee to investigate these matters.

Smallpox in England has declined almost to the vanishing point and the recognized dangers of vaccination will probably induce the government to drop compulsory infant vaccination altogether and substitute for it the compulsory vaccination of all persons who have been in contact with smallpox. This, of course, we shall resist with all our might so far as our friends will allow.