Pox: An American History examines a unique period of time when smallpox ran rampant and public health officials did everything they could to stop it. From 1898 to 1904, a smallpox epidemic swept the United States and the government pulled out all the stops, from forcible vaccination at gunpoint to kidnapping people into quarantine “pest houses.” There were countless lives saved, but at what cost? Historian Willrich chronicles the lessons learned during this critical period when the balance between individual rights and the greater good was in flux, paving the way for more compassionate immunization policies.
Willrich has a credible voice. A decade ago, his own son’s bowel was injured by a rotavirus vaccine, yet he still believes immunization is a powerful tool to keep communities heathy. His meticulous research draws parallels between outrage 110 years ago and today’s vaccine controversy, which he thinks is one of the most important contemporary public health crises. History buffs will get a complete and satisfying dose as the author paints a vivid picture of turn-of-the-last-century America. The anti-vaccinators of the early 1900s were a small but vocal group, yet they couldn’t prevent the eventual eradication of smallpox in 1980.