The overwhelming consensus is that smallpox vaccination was a great success, representing a significant milestone in medicines triumph over illness, eventually eradicating smallpox from the entire world. In fact the success of smallpox vaccination is so enshrined in medical history that most doctors and scientists are very rarely concerned enough to investigate the matter further.
One such doctor Dr Creighton was commissioned by the Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to write an article on vaccination for the ninth edition. (In 1889 he also published his views in a more popular form in a work entitled Jenner and Vaccination: Cassell & Co.), In a letter to the press in 1895 he states:
Having written medical articles in The Encyclopaedia Britannica regularly from the year 1880, I was engaged in the ordinary course to write on vaccination, … I had hardly begun work upon vaccination in 1886 when I found myself immersed in an original inquiry into the nature and circumstances of the historical cowpox of Jenner and others.
The information available to Dr Creighton was so ambiguous that he had to research the original data himself, leading to an extensive review of the available scientific literature. He goes on to say…
… One result of the historical and pathological research was that I began to suspect the value of cowpox as a protective from smallpox… The article was sent in soon after, and was in due course put into type.
Unfortunately for pro-vaccinators Dr Creighton could make no excuse for what he concluded was the failure of vaccination. Dr. Creighton also informed the Royal Commission (Q5584) that up to 1886, when the article on vaccination in the Encyclopedia Britannica was written, he had no doubt about the value of vaccination, that it never occurred to him to question the thing at all, and that he took it as one of the things he had been taught as a student. He left the Commission in no doubt as to the result of his studies.
In my opinion,” he said (Q-5430) “vaccination affords no protection against smallpox.
Dr Creighton an eminent doctor who had written countless articles for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, had wholeheartedly believed in the value of vaccines, had been taught the virtue of vaccinations in medical school, practised medicine for many years and had seen no reason to doubt their safety and efficacy. Now only after conducting his own research discovered that they were effectively useless.
Dr. Creighton died on the 18th July 1927, 80 years old. The following brief extracts from an obituary notice appeared in the Lancet on the 30th July, 1927, written by Prof. William Bulloch, F.R.S: —
“By the death of Charles Creighton, England has lost her most learned medical scholar of the nineteenth century, although it cannot be forgotten that some of his opinions were the subject of such criticism that he ceased to be felt as a power in the medical world . . .. I was his only intimate friend for years before he died, for he was a most lonely forsaken man.
“To the end he was a scholar and a philosopher and the most learned man I ever knew. He spoke and read nearly all the European languages and had an extraordinary knowledge not only of medicine but of the classics and the Bible. His knowledge of English literature and history was also profound. Although he frequently spoke as if he wished to be considered and remembered as a pathologist, it is by his ‘History of Epidemics in Great Britain’ that he earned a permanent place beside the great masters of medical history like Daremberg, Haeser, Freind, and Hirsch. In my judgment Creighton’s History of Epidemics is the greatest work of medical learning published in the nineteenth century by an Englishman.
The real tragedy of Creighton’s life was connected with his views on cowpox and vaccination…His article on ‘Vaccination’ in the ninth edition of the Engclopedia Britannica, published in 1888, literally sealed Creighton’s fate. Based on an extended study of the original data, he came to the conclusion that Jenner’s work was incorrect, and that cowpox was not, as Jenner stated, ‘Variola Vaccinse (not related to smallpox).’ In Creighton’s view cowpox had nothing to do with smallpox and was not a protective against smallpox.
The issue between Creighton and general professional opinion on vaccination was not thrashed out there and then as it ought to have been. It was deemed more expedient to drop Creighton into oblivion, and if he was ever referred to at all it was only as ‘Creighton the Anti-Vaccinator.’ All his other work was forgotten in the debacle, and he was a doomed man…in the opinion of many he was harshly treated by the world for holding views that did not conform to standard. Perhaps this very world has become more tolerant than it was in Creighton’s time, because even in his own subject there are epidemiologists who express with impunity to-day views as heterodox as those for which Creighton was pilloried and ostracised 40 years ago.
In spite of, rather than because of the evidence, government health policy makers came to the conclusion that smallpox vaccination was an effective public health procedure and in principle the ideas of Jenner have remained with us to the present day. This does lead us to question the source of this apparent medical prejudice; why did governments persist in such an apparently flawed medical policy? And more significantly, are we today, over 150 years later, still locked in an old paradigm promoting heath policies that have long since proven to be ineffective or have more recent developments in medical research made up for our previous inadequacies…have we learnt from our mistakes?