The Geography of Vaccine Politics

Image from Wikimedia Commons: The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!—vide. the Publications of ye Anti-Vaccine Society, 1802

“In this cartoon, the British satirist James Gillray caricatured a scene at the Smallpox and Inoculation Hospital at St. Pancras, showing cowpox vaccine being administered to frightened young women, and cows emerging from different parts of people’s bodies. The cartoon was inspired by the controversy over inoculating against the dreaded disease, smallpox. Opponents of vaccination had depicted cases of vaccinees developing bovine features and this is picked up and exaggerated by Gillray. Although the central figure is often assumed to be Edward Jenner circumstantial evidence suggests this may not be so. Although the director of the Smallpox Hospital William Woodville had originally supported Jenner, he and his colleague George Pearson, were in dispute with Jenner by the time the caricature was published. It is unlikely they would have met Jenner and it has been suggested that the central figure represents Pearson. Gillray often included clues to identify individuals who were not easily recognizable, but the only clue here is the badge on the arm of the boy which identifies his connection with Woodville’s hospital. The boy holds a container labeled “VACCINE POCK hot from ye COW” and papers in the boy’s pocket are labeled “Benefits of the Vaccine”. The tub on the desk is labeled “OPENING MIXTURE”. A bottle next to the tub is labeled “VOMIT”. The painting on the wall depicts worshippers of the Golden Calf.”

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