Vaccination Numbers Reported in the New York Times… In 1851

The December 2, 1851, issue of The New York Daily Times reported several bits of interesting information. It first has the results of canvassing for several positions up for election:

NYT Screen Capture Elections
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Later in the page, there is a table of taxes received by the city in the previous five months:

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Next, we see how many prescriptions have been dispensed, and to whom, including vaccinations:

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Note that 122 people received a vaccination (presumably the smallpox vaccine, since that was the only vaccine available at the time), and notice that the “principal diseases treated were fevers, small pox and inflammatory disorders.” Later, we’ll see what was killing people at that time.

Then we have some statistics on licenses issued followed by criminal statistics (who was imprisoned and where) and some numbers on hospital admissions and discharges. Then we get to the mortality table:

 

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In one week, 350 people were reported dead. (If you look at the archived page, you’ll see some reports of deaths, like a child being thrown off a horse and two ill men dying of “death by apoplexy.”) As far as infectious diseases, there were deaths from an abscess, bronchitis, cholera, consumption (tuberculosis), croup, chickenpox, diarrhea, dysentery, erysipelas (bacterial infection), different fevers (including scarlet fever and typhoid fever), hooping (whooping) cough, inflammation of different organs (notably lung inflammation), measles, small pox and varioloid (something resembling smallpox). Not everyone died in an institution, either. And many of the deaths reported were in the younger age groups.

Today, you rarely see these kinds of data posted on news sites. (Not to mention that there are not many newspapers in print anymore, except for the big cities.) Some cities, like Baltimore and Philadelphia, are trying to inform their citizens through open data portals. (Here is Baltimore’s and here is Philadelphia’s open data portals.) The main goal of those portals is to allow professional and amateur data scientists to analyze and visualize the data in a way that allows for new discoveries.

Who knows? Maybe in 1851 there was some scientist who looked at this information and did something with it? It would be another three years before English physician John Snow used the published deaths from cholera in the England epidemic of 1854 to map out the addresses of the victims. He would then pose a theory of how cholera was being spread in London: not by “bad air” but by contaminated water. What contaminated the water was a subject of further research and discovery and the advent of Germ Theory.

You can read whole New York Daily Times issue as a PDF here: https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1851/12/02/75115415.pdf

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

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