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August 2020 - Anti-vaccination

In the Department of Health’s 1918-1919 annual report, the city’s Health Commissioner Hiram M. Reed wrote of an outbreak of disease that he saw as preventable.

We have had an epidemic of a mild type of smallpox in Seattle beginning in January, 1919, and extending thru the year with a total of 869 cases for the year. The responsibility for this rests on the anti-vaccinationist and the Christian Scientist, who not only oppose vaccination, but were able to have a bill passed by the State Legislature preventing obligatory vaccination of school children.

It was the unvaccinated children in the schools that caused it to spread. Being a disease that is spread by personal contact, a glance at the quarantine table will show how rapidly it dropped from 111 cases in May to 85 in June, to 42, 32, and 39 in July, August and September, to jump to 100 in October.

I insisted on vaccination of all contacts or a rigid quarantine for 14 days. Where a case occurred in a lodging house or rooming house we compelled vaccination or quarantine. When occurring in a private residence, all residents within 150 feet were treated as contacts and vaccinated. In the schools where a case occurred, the entire school was vaccinated or quarantined except those having a certificate of vaccination within two years.

The vaccination law which became effective in June, 1919, makes it more difficult to deal with the smallpox question, and this law is a bad piece of legislation, passed to satisfy a small minority. It has been the means of spreading smallpox in this city and is still doing so. The law should be repealed and a law passed compelling vaccination of all school children.

Washington State still allows personal and philosophical exemptions from required vaccinations of school-age children, although in 2019 those exemptions were eliminated for the MMR vaccine after several measles outbreaks.