The Vaccine Revolt of 1904 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In 1904, the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was beset by riots over the course of four days in November. The reason for the riot was the resistance to a compulsory vaccination law that had been passed by Congress earlier that year. Citizens who had been displaced by gentrification of the city and were among the most disadvantaged groups banded together with anti-vaccine and anti-government groups, including some members of the armed forces. When the government began to try to forcefully vaccinate against smallpox, violence broke out.

By the end of the riots, dozens were dead and hundreds were wounded. The government had somehow managed to stave-off a coup, and the Brazilian President decided not to press further with the compulsory vaccination. A little over one hundred years later, Brazilians would stand in long lines to get the Yellow Fever vaccine after an epidemic swept to the country, demonstrating yet again that vaccine policy is innately political. As Paul Offit, MD, once said, the vaccine controversy is a cultural one, not a scientific one.

The following video is in Portuguese, but the closed captioning is in English. It tells the story of the “Vaccine Revolt.”

You can also watch a great video on this (about 22 minutes long) by visiting the Oswaldo Cruz Virtual Library:

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen