20. An Unscrupulous Nineteenth Century Anti-Vaxxer
As the smallpox raced through Montreal in 1885, anti-vaxxers such as the quack Dr. Alexander M. Ross led a campaign that urged refusal of the vaccine. His publication, The Anti-Vaccinator, derided the vaccinated as being “driven like dumb animals“, and falsely stated that “vaccination does not prevent Small-pox in any case“. That was bad, but what was even worse was that Ross had quietly vaccinated himself at the start of the epidemic. He nonetheless urged others not to get vaccinated and led an antivaxxer campaign because it gave him an opportunity to pose as a hero. Although over a hundred years separate us from Dr. Ross, his methods in the nineteenth century were remarkably similar to those used by anti-vaxxers in the twenty first.
Like his modern equivalents, Ross pooh poohed the alarm of public health officials as “senseless panic“, and decried a perceived violation of personal liberty. He also peddled conspiracies about the greed of the medical establishment, exaggerated the risk of vaccines, and cherry picked “evidence” from a minority of like-minded quack doctors who opposed vaccines. He and other anti-vaxxers also made up sensationalist lies, such as vaccine administrators invading women’s bedrooms (with the women always dramatically in states of undress) to tie them and their children down and forcibly vaccinate them. As seen below, his efforts triggered a violent anti-vaxxer riot.