Arthur Conan Doyle spoke against anti-vaxxers in 1880s

Anti-vaxxer movement has long history

People opposed to vaccinations are getting a lot of press in recent years, thanks to a now-debunked 1997 study, but it turns out the argument goes back to the inception of inoculation.

A cartoon said to be from a 1930s booklet warning about the dangers of anti-vaccination. (Stock image)

It turns out the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, was a big proponent of mandatory vaccination, writing long letters to the editor on the subject.

Responding to an early anti-vaxxer, one Colonel Wintle, Doyle’s arguments are eerily familiar.

“He undertakes a vast responsibility when, in the face of the overwhelming testimony of those who are brought most closely into contact with disease, he incites others, through the public press, to follow the same course and take their chance of infection in defiance of hospital statistics,” wrote Doyle in the July 27, 1887 issue of the Hampshire County Times (Portsmouth).

READ MORE: 70% of Canadians agree with mandatory vaccines for children: poll

The first vaccine experiments started in the late 1700s, in England, when Edward Jenner, a country doctor, began working on smallpox and cowpox.

By the time Doyle was writing his letters to the editor, Britain had passed compulsory vaccination laws, in 1821. By the 1830s, after an initial generation had been vaccinated, followed by a marked decline of smallpox causes in the U.S. and Europe, an anti-vaccination movement was building.

Doyle’s letter makes a clear point of that decline, at the same time as accusing his opponent’s letter as containing a “Jumble of statistics and quotations.”

“The death-rate varies from less than one in a hundred among the well-vaccinated to the enormous mortality of 37 per cent among Colonel Wintle’s followers,” wrote Doyle.

Hobbies and fads are harmless “as a rule,” Doyle wrote but when a hobby took the form of encouraging people to neglect healthy precautions, “it becomes a positive danger to the community at large.”

“The interests at stake are so vital that an enormous responsibility rests with the men whose notion of progress is to revert to the condition of things which existed in the dark ages before the dawn of medical science,” Doyle wrote.

Doyle is also very strident about how general health had been improved, though it would take another century before smallpox was considered eradicated.

“The ravages made by smallpox in the days of our ancestors can hardly be realized by the present sanitary and well-vaccinated generation,” wrote Doyle, adding that historians of the Georgian era wrote “there is hardly ever a missing relative who is not described as ‘having pockmarks upon his face.’”

READ MORE: Facebook should ban all ‘anti-vaxxer’ posts, B.C. mom says

“As to the serious results of vaccination, which Colonel Wintle describes as indescribable, they are to a very large extent imaginary.”

It’s often said that some things never change — and after more than two centuries of vaccination, we’re still having the same argument.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BC Green Party looking for Central Okanagan candidates

The party only has two confirmed candidates: Sonia Furstenau and Adam Olsen

Lake Country residents invited to online series on dementia

Demystifying Advocacy is a free, two-part series for residents affected by dementia

30 new COVID-19 cases reported in Central Okanagan health region in August

The 30 new cases reported in August brings the total number in region to 239

Allegedly stolen puppy reunited with owners in Kelowna

The puppy was reportedly turned into the RCMP

Vernon centre lights up for visibility amid pandemic

Impact of COVID-19 on live event workers sparks Canadian movement

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

EDITORIAL: Clearing the smoke

Wildfires have resulted in heavy smoke and poor air quality

COVID-19 exposure at Merritt pub

The exposure happened on Sept. 19 at the pub of the Coldwater Hotel

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

UPDATE: Person safely pulled from Vernon creek culvert

First responders from multiple agencies assist in getting individual out of the creek

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Police watchdog investigating after man injured in Penticton RCMP cells

Man suffers serious injuries after being lodged into cells at the detachment

Four more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

There are 31 active cases in isolation in the health region

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

Most Read