Tag Archives: smallpox

Benjamin Franklin on vaccination

Ben Franklin is one of my all-time favorite historical figures; there are few people who have been universally successful in all they’ve done: business, politics, science, and humanitarianism. Franklin was one of these, and he’s left a guidebook for those who wish to follow in his footsteps. (And really, how can you beat $2.50 for a brand-new book?)

I’ve been reading through it lately, and while it’s easy reading, it’s so chock-full of wisdom that I find it slow going. Lunchtimes and evenings find me with pencil in hand, underlining and annotating the bits that especially speak to me, and there are many.

I came across this paragraph, and I was astonished. With the anti-vaccination crazies gaining influence and mindshare, this earthy bit of common sense was a breath of fresh air, written in the 1700s by someone who knew a world without vaccines, and saw the devastation caused by these diseases — smallpox, polio, and many others — first-hand.

In 1736, I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by smallpox, taken in the common way. I long regretted him bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it, my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and therefore that the safer should be chosen.

Simple and profound. Alas, I don’t think the anti-vaccination types will take his advice to heart, and we are all the poorer for it.