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Learning from early vaccinations

Posted on: January 17, 2021


Video source

As we start to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV2, it is worth learning about this history of vaccines. This SciShow video tells a less common but no less important account.

When learning about vaccines, most will be taught about Edward Jenner. They will not likely be taught about how the ancient peoples of China and Africa practiced what Jenner “pioneered” (variolation).

I learnt that about 300 years ago, the Brits adopted this practice by observing variolation in Turkey. But they did this only after testing the process on prisoners and orphan children. This was about 30 years before Jenner was born. Jenner figured out a safer way to do this and coined the term vaccine.

Fast forward to today and here are two lessons that some have yet to learn (start at this point in the video). The first is about how we relate history: We oversimplify and forget nuance.

The second was put plainly in the video:

Power dynamics between white men and everyone else have historically minimised the contributions of anyone who was not a white man.

Might we be seeing evidence of these two unlearnt (or difficult to learn) lessons right now? The press seems to conflate vaccine efficacy with efficiency instead of explaining it to the masses. The mRNA vaccines are a technological marvel but there is still so much misinformation about them. Powerful and advanced countries like to pit the COVID-19 statistics of some countries in Asia and Africa while not embracing ideas, mindsets, and practices to control its spread.

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