One of the most effective arguments for vaccines is that they have significantly reduced the death rate from the various diseases against which they are supposed to protect. And while there is little question that things have improved, there is unfortunately real cause to doubt that they have improved anywhere nearly as dramatically as nearly everyone on both sides of the issue assumes:
The National Vaccine establishment, supported by Government grants, issued periodical Reports, which were printed by order of the House of Commons, and in successive years we find the following statements:
In 1812, and again in 1818, it is stated that “previous to the discovery of vaccination the average number of deaths by small-pox within the (London) Bills of Mortality was 2,000 annually; whereas in the last year only 751 persons have died of the disease, although the increase of population within the last ten years has been 133,139.”
The number 2,000 is about the average smallpox deaths of the whole eignteenth century, but those of the last two decades before the publication of Jenner’s Inquiry, were 1,751 and 1,786, showing a decided fall. This, however, may pass. But when we come to the Report for 1826 we find the following: “But when we reflect that before the introduction of vaccination the average number of deaths from small-pox within the Bills of Mortality was annually about 4,000, no stronger argument can reasonably be demanded in favour of the value of this important discovery.”
This monstrous figure was repeated in 1834, apparently quite forgetting the correct figure for the whole century given in 1818, and also the fact that the small-pox deaths recorded in the London Bills of Mortality in any year of the century never reached 4,000. But worse is to come; for in 1836 we have the following statement: “The annual loss of life by small-pox in the Metropolis, and within the Bills of Mortality only, before vaccination was established, exceeded 5,000, whereas in the course of last year only 300 died of the distemper.” And in the Report for 1838 this gross error is repeated; while in the next year (1839) the conclusion is drawn “that 4,000 lives are saved every year in London since vaccination so largely superseded variolation (3).”
The Board of the National Vaccine Establishment consisted of the President and four Censors of the Royal College of Physicians, and the Master and two senior Wardens of the College of Surgeons. We cannot possibly suppose that they knew or believed that they were publishing untruths and grossly deceiving the public. We must, therefore, fall back upon the supposition that they were careless to such an extent as not to find out that they were authorizing successive statements of the same quantity as inconsistent with each other as 2,000 and 5000.
The next example is given by Dr. Lettsom, who, in his evidence before the Parliamentary Committee in 1802, calculated the small-pox deaths of Great Britain and Ireland before vaccination at 36,000 annually; by taking 3,000 as the annual mortality in London and multiplying by twelve, because the population was estimated to be twelve times as large. He first takes a number which is much too high, and then assumes that the mortality in the town, village, and country populations was the same as in overcrowded, filthy London! Smallpox was always present in London, while Sir Gilbert Blane tells us that in many parts of the country it was quite unknown for periods of twenty, thirty, or forty years. In 1782 Mr. Connah, a surgeon at Seaford, in Sussex, only knew of one small-pox death in eleven years among a population of 700. Cross, the historian of the Norwich epidemic in 1819, states that previous to 1805 small-pox was little known in this city of 40,000 inhabitants, and was for a time almost extinct; and yet this gross error of computing the small-pox mortality of the whole country from that of London (and computing it from wrong data) was not only accepted at the time, but has been repeated again and again down to the present day as an ascertained fact!
In a speech in Parliament in defence of .vaccination., Sir Lyon Playfair gave 4,000 per million as the average London death-rate by small-pox before vaccination—a number nearly double that of the last twenty years of the century, which alone affords a fair comparison. But far more amazing is the statement by the late Dr. W. B. Carpenter, in a letter to the Spectator of April, 1881, that “a hundred years ago the small-pox mortality of London alone, with its then population of under a million, was often greater in a six months’ epidemic than that of the twenty millions of England & Wales now is in any whole Year.” The facts, well known to every enquirer, are: that the very highest small-pox mortality in the last century in a year was 3,992 in 1772, while in 1871 it was 7,912 in. London, or more than double; and in the same year, in England and Wales, it was 23,000. This amazing and almost incredible misstatement was pointed out and acknowledged privately, but never withdrawn publicly!
The late Mr. Ernest Hart, a medical man., editor of the British Medical Journal, and a great authority on sanitation, in his work entitled The Truth about Vaccination, surpasses even Dr. Carpenter in the monstrosity of his errors. At page 35 of the first edition (1880), he states that in. the forty years 1728—57 and 1771—80, the average annual small-pox mortality of London was about 18,000 per million living. The actual average mortality, from the tables given in the Second Report of the Royal Commission, page 290, was a little over 2,000, the worst periods having been chosen; and taking the lowest estimates of the population at the time, the mortality per million would have been under 3,000. This great authority, therefore, has multiplied the real number by six! In a later edition this statement is omitted, but in the first edition it was no mere misprint, for it was triumphantly dwelt upon over a whole page and compared with modern rates of mortality.
Now, a very good argument in favor of the smallpox vaccine is that the disease has largely been eradicated, even in nations where the hygiene and sanitation does not rise to the level of nineteenth century London. But it does no one any good, and the pro-vaccine cause no service, to resort to citing fictional numbers in order to claim that public health has dramatically improved as a result of certain vaccines.