The Politics of Vaccination

The Politics of Vaccination

Practice and Policy in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, 1800-1874

Deborah Brunton

A detailed examination of the political forces and events that shaped smallpox vaccination policy in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland during the nineteenth century.
The introduction of public vaccination was among the greatest of public health triumphs. By the end of the nineteenth century, legislation framed and implemented by medical experts in Britain's government brought smallpox under control for the first time. The Politics of Vaccination: Practice and Policy in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, 1800-1874, by historian Deborah Brunton, reveals the conflict that accompanied this success, and highlights how power differentials among government officials, medical experts, and general practitioners influenced vaccination policy across Great Britain. Brunton challenges the assumption that expert supervision was crucial, showing instead that local organization was pivotal to successful public vaccination.
Throughout Britain, ordinary practitioners -- eager to enhance their professional status -- demanded the right to shape and supervise public vaccination. But their achievement depended on wider political considerations, and varied from country to country. In England and Wales, for instance, practitioners were defeated by a new band of medical experts who had established a power base within government. In Scotland, medical professionals contrived to keep most vaccinations within the private sector, but local enthusiasm ensured very high levels of participation. Public vaccination was most successful in Ireland, where practitioners had limited influence over dispensary provision and smallpox was nearly eradicated, if briefly, in the 1860s.
In The Politics of Vaccination, Brunton demonstrates that public vaccination was not simply a medical matter: it was a divisive political issue, with outcomes strongly influenced by competing partisan interests.

Deborah Brunton is senior lecturer in history of medicine at the Open University.

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Table of Contents

Vaccination in Early Nineteenth-Century England and Wales
The Creation of a Public Vaccination Service
Compulsory Vaccination and Divisions among Practitioners
Central Control over Public Vaccination
The Failure of Central Supervision
Challenges to Vaccination Policy
Ireland: The Failure of Poor Law Vaccination 1840-50
Failure and Success: Irish Public Vaccination 1850-80
Vaccination in Scotland: Victory for Practitioners


A major strength of this book is the inclusion of Ireland . . . in its coverage. . . .The book fills a gap in the historiography in this topic. VICTORIAN STUDIES [Jacqueline Jenkinson]

Carefully researched and thoughtfully argued. MEDICAL HISTORY, January 2010

One might wonder what could be more prosaic and representative of the new science-based government, than the administration of vaccination. But if vaccination exemplifies anything, it is interpretive flexibility, as Deborah Brunton elegantly shows. Vaccination programs evolved remarkably differently in England, Scotland, and Ireland, as groups of practitioners interpreted their interests differently, and as front line vaccinators struggled with London's biomedical elite to define vaccination expertise. --Christopher Hamlin, Department of History, University of Notre Dame

Not merely a classic of conciseness, indeed pithiness: three nations' vaccinal turning-points for the price of one, with jolting comparisons between all. --Logie Barrow, Historian of the British Isles; Bremen, Germany

Deborah Brunton's monograph is welcome for opening up the professional and political sides of the vaccination issue, and especially for extending the geographical focus of inquiry to include Ireland and Scotland. [.] The insights she provides into contemporary medical issues are very valuable. REVIEWS IN HISTORY (SPECIAL 'HEALTH IN HISTORY' ISSUE), July 2011

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