Conversations that occur in my household…
CaitlinD: You know, this book on smallpox isn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
Mr. D: Um you’re surprised?
CaitlinD: Smallpox should be interesting!!!
So yeah, I love history and non-fiction which is probably a bit strange; but my one requirement is that it doesn’t read quite so text-booky. The majority focus of Pox is on the vaccination process the government rolled out during the turn of the century when variola minor was becoming a problem everywhere from New York to South Carolina. Most cases affected African Americans; unfortunately in a country only a few decades removed from the Civil War this meant there was some racist responses to the growing epidemic. Eventually, state governments began vaccination by compulsion. However, smallpox is one of the most dangerous vaccinations and in 1901 it was also a pretty new arrival to the medical community; this lead to a lot of push back by the American public. The anti-vaccine moment gained a lot of traction when recently vaccinated children began contracting fatal cases of lockjaw caused by tetanus. This part reminded me a lot about this past year’s measles outbreak at Disney and the following ban of all un-vaccinated kids from attending classes until a proper quarantine period was met. While a few of those kids were un-vaccinated due to allergies or religious beliefs a lot of them never received immunity because their parents’ personal beliefs. Just trade autism for tetanus.
Pox details a lot of the court cases that sprung up during this period of compulsion. The most important case being Jacobson v. Massachusetts in which a Swedish minister claimed the 14th Amendment gave him the right to refuse vaccination. The case set precedent for medical exemptions (like people allergic to aspects of the vaccines) but gave the state the power to encroach on some civil liberties during extreme circumstances- like an outbreak.
Like I said, a lot of interesting bits and pieces but the whole book was just kind of boring. They followed a few main characters, Jacobson and a few doctors, but it was mostly just an information dump.