Smallpox Vaccination

The History of Variolation

The exact origins of variolation (also known as “inoculation”) are not well known. However, it is agreed that the practice started somewhere in Asia, in either China or India. (It is possible that it started in both places at around the same time.) In China, scabs from smallpox pustules would be dried in the sun and then inhaled by people seeking to be inoculated. The drying of the scabs would weaken the virus — or make less of it viable — and the inoculated person would (hopefully) not develop the full-blown symptoms of smallpox. In India, the method was similar to what would migrate west to the Middle East, North Africa and eventually Europe. That method involved lancing the pustule of someone recovering from smallpox and then using that same lance to transfer some of the pustule material (pus) into the arm of a healthy person.

National Immunization Awareness Month: A Debate About Vaccination

n 1969, a debate took place between John M. Neff, MD, and Samuel Lawrence Katz, MD, on whether to continue to immunize children against smallpox given that, at the time, the disease was under control in the country. (Think of polio today, where it is found only in areas of Central Asia, yet children in the United States and other countries continue to receive the vaccine.) The debate was televised and archived by the US National Library of Medicine.