This story is part of Doubting the Dose, a series that examines anti-vaccine sentiment and the role of misinformation in supercharging it. Read more here.
Quick—when did the epidemic of misinformation about vaccines begin? Was it when Jenny McCarthy took to The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2007 to claim that a vaccine caused her son’s autism? Or maybe when the anti-vax movement discovered that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were a powerful way to amp their message and recruit new members to the cause?
Try a little earlier than that—by more than two centuries.
Shortly after Edward Jenner pioneered vaccination at the end of the 1700s, the movement against it began. Even earlier, vaccination’s precursor—known at the time as inoculation or variolation—inspired similar fear and misconceptions.
Some of the specific arguments made against vaccines have evolved over the years. The means used to amplify them—from pamphlets to online videos—have changed even more. But…