Smallpox Feared in York’s Past
Lewis Miller drawing–Dr. Kennedy waxenate (vaccinate) 1799.
Concern about the recent “Swine” N1H1 flu, and the precautions taken against it remind us of the days before many once virulent diseases were tamed by vaccines. About the only way to try to halt an epidemic was strict rule of quarantine.
As the notice below, which is from an 1872 York newspaper, shows that municipalities often stepped in to with ordinances to protect their citizens:
At a meeting of the Town Council held on Tuesday evening, January 23, 1872, the following resolution was passed unanimously:
WHEREAS, a number of cases of Small-Pox have already broken out in the Borough, and there is reason to apprehend that unless great care is exercised, the disease may become very generally prevalent, Therefore:
Resolved, That the physicians in this Borough are hereby authorized and directed to report to the Clerk of Council, every case of Small-Pox now under their treatment and each case that may hereafter come under their knowledge or treatment, under a penalty of $25.00 for neglect so to do.
That the Clerk of Council immediately upon receiving such notice shall inform the Chief of Police of the same, who is hereby directed to place a flag with the words “Small-Pox” on it on each house occupied by such person or persons, which flag shall remain until the recovery of the same, under a penalty of $50.00 for the premature or unauthorized removal by any person or persons of said flag.
That the above penalties be collected as fines and penalties are authorized to be collected by the laws relating to said Borough
By order of Town Council.
PETER AHL, Jr., Town Clerk”
Even though vaccination for smallpox was known in the 1700s, it took many years to eradicate the disease around the world. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the routine recommendation of smallpox vaccination, which many of us remember as a child, was rescinded in the U.S. in 1971. Smallpox vaccine is still kept viable in a laboratory setting, mostly as a precaution in case of bioterrorism.
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