Over the past year, seemingly endless conspiracy theories
and misinformation campaigns
have gained traction online amid rising Covid-19 infection rates
Looking at the history of these movements can help us understand why they can be so effective at capturing a popular following.
As a historian of medicine, it has become clear from researching the history of vaccines that those who promote anti-vaccination consistently use a standard set of strategies. Although it can be hard to see patterns of argument in the modern context, looking back at a historical instance of epidemic and misinformation provides a useful case study for revealing today's recurring anti-vaccination strategies.
One popular pamphlet
published in 1885 during the smallpox epidemic in Montreal is a great example. Over a century later, we have the benefit of living in a world that has eradicated smallpox using a vaccine
. Yet in the past, smallpox vaccination was hotly contested, despite the evidence in favor of its effectiveness.