Vaccination Defaulters, 1905

With the Covid Pandemic still recently and currently on our minds, it’s easy to find some parallels where certain members of the public, for whatever reason are intent on NOT following the masses and abstaining from being vaccinated.

Such was the case too in 1905 in Central Scotland, when Smallpox vaccinations were being rolled out. A free vaccine, the public including residents of Blantyre were encouraged to be inoculated and only by exception with valid reason, could this be avoided.

There was an anti vaccination movement in Scotland around that time and their propaganda helped spread unwarranted fear about the vaccination. It was frowned upon by authorities given the risk unvaccinated residents posed. Unlike Covid, where people had a choice to be vaccinated or not, authorities in 1905 had made vaccination compulsory and came down hard on individuals not complying.

In October 1905, the Blantyre Parish Council met to discuss the case of 3 individuals in the Blantyre area who had refused to get their children vaccinated against smallpox. The individuals were to be given a chance to speak their views on why this refusal was taking place. The three “anti vaxxers” were all men, all of whom lived in Craig Street and named Cunningham, Pate and Leggate.

However, by the time of the meeting, and facing jail, both Pate and Leggate had collapsed their viewpoint, stating that they had now decided to get their children vaccinated, showing certificates of proof. Cunningham, though still refused and spoke up believing that the vaccine would make his children poorer in health, even causing them injury. Cunningham stuck to this principle and left the Blantyre Board no alternative that to recommend him through escalation to the Local Government Board.

Local Government fought anti vaccination propaganda with public health posters like the one attached.

I could not find the outcome of that later meeting, but it is highly likely that the Board discussed not only a penalty, fine or recommended charging Mr Cunningham, but also would have ensured his children were given the vaccination.

The abolition of ‘compulsory smallpox vaccination’ was finally achieved when the National Health Service was created in 1947.

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