The Return of the Vaccine Wars

February 20, 2015 9:48 PM

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The Return of the Vaccine Wars

The controversy over vaccines is as old as vaccination itself. When Edward Jenner, a brilliant English country doctor, discovered the vaccine for smallpox in 1796, he faced as much criticism as praise. Ministers thundered against tampering with the Lord’s grand design. The economist Thomas Malthus worried that vaccines would lead to dangerous population increases. The very idea of injecting animal matter into the human body struck many as dangerous and repulsive. Cartoons appeared showing cows’ horns sprouting from the heads of recently vaccinated children.

The current measles outbreak, with more than 140 cases so far, has created a firestorm that may not disappear when this particular crisis ebbs. Last week, New York University Medical School bioethicist Arthur Caplan compared doctors who oppose vaccination to “Holocaust deniers” and demanded that the...

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