By Casey Hurrell

Hackett, Lewis Wendell, “Quince Mil, Yellow Fever vaccination,”100 Years: The Rockefeller Foundation, accessed March 25, 2015.

Hackett, Lewis Wendell, “Quince Mil, Yellow Fever vaccination,”100 Years: The Rockefeller Foundation, accessed March 25, 2015.

As the Ebola epidemic winds down in West Africa, the World Health Organization is stressing the necessity of reestablishing routine immunization activities, especially for measles and pertussis (whooping cough).[1] Estimates suggest that the rate of routine immunization against preventable diseases, including measles, plummeted by up to 75% during the Ebola epidemic.[2] Measles outbreaks often follow humanitarian crises, including epidemic outbreaks of other diseases, violence conflict, and ecological disasters. This is due to the sheer virulence of the disease, and the fact that baseline immunization rates tend to be lower than for other EPI vaccines —an outbreak of measles indicates the early stages of health system failure.[3] The inverse is also true; where vaccination campaigns are successful, and there is buy-in from local communities, the entirety of the health system can be strengthened from the ground up. The diseases targeted for immunization efforts have shifted over time, but the message has remained the same: mass vaccination campaigns are among the best ways of lessening the disease burden, and tackling the health problems that affect developing societies head-on. But the story is rarely that simple. History has lessons for global health, as always. [click to continue…]

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By Anne Hardy

The declining mortality from infectious disease in Victorian Britain owed little to preventive medical procedures such as vaccination. One thing is certain: the modern anti-vaccine movement has recently brought great attention to the role of vaccines in reducing child mortality during the 20th century. And while this is particularly true for diseases like measles and polio, the reality is that the greatest decline in mortality from infectious diseases occurred well before the introduction of successful and widely used vaccines. It’s therefore important that we look at the history of infectious diseases and vaccines in context so that we can better understand the role of medicine, social change, and public health more generally in explaining how we got where we are today and what role compulsory vaccination might play in the future.

Infectious diseases have been a scourge of humankind at least since the hunter-gatherers formed settled communities, took up farming and domesticated livestock. For much of history the emergence and impact of these diseases on human societies went unrecorded, except in relation to such drastic events as the Great Plague of Athens, the Black Death, or the appearance of syphilis in Western Europe. It was only in the nineteenth century, when public health became a political and economic issue that the problem began to be documented numerically.

Britain was the first, and for a long time the only, country to put into place a dependable official system for recording deaths and causes of death (as well as births and marriages), from 1837 in England and Wales, from 1854 in Scotland. It was soon abundantly clear that infectious diseases exacted a high price in terms of death and morbidity, and that this was principally an urban problem. Britain’s great cities were hotbeds of infection, their death rates far outstripping those of the county boroughs and rural areas. [click to continue…]

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“Be Wise – Immunize!”: Vaccine Promotion in Canada During the 20th Century

March 30, 2015

By Catherine Carstairs A growing number of measles cases this winter has reignited the debate over vaccination.  While the vast majority of Canadians believe in the merits of vaccination, and inoculate their children against a wide range of diseases, including measles, a significant number of Canadians refuse to vaccinate their children or do not complete […]

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Theme Week: Infectious Disease, Contagion and the History of Vaccines

March 30, 2015

Edited By Jim Clifford, Erika Dyck and Ian Mosby Infectious disease, public health and vaccination continue to be major news stories in the early twenty-first century, from SARS in 2002-2003 through to H1N1 in 2009 and more recent concerns about Ebola in Sierra Leone, measles at Disneyland and mumps in the NHL.  In February 2015, […]

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Rock Hudson, the Reagans, and HIV/AIDS Scholarship

March 26, 2015

By Lucas Richert In recent months, a gay rights group, the Mattachine Society, have helped provide a more expansive view of Rock Hudson’s final struggle with AIDS. In documents obtained from the Reagan Presidential Library and available on BuzzFeed, it is clear that Nancy Reagan refused to help the dying Hudson receive treatment. This matters. […]

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A Useless Import? European Niqab Politics in Canada

March 25, 2015

By Aitana Guia In 2012, the Canadian Government led by Conservative Stephen Harper approved a policy banning full veiling from citizenship ceremonies. Zunera Ishaq, who wears a niqab and was about to become Canadian citizen, decided to postpone her ceremony in order to ask the Federal Court whether the government policy was legal. In 2015, […]

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Five Simple Rules for Saving the Maritimes: The Regional Stereotype in the 21st Century

March 24, 2015

By Lachlan MacKinnon The Maritimes are on the brink of catastrophic economic and demographic failure [1]. Our lack of entrepreneurial spirit, engrained sense of entitlement, conservatism, and folksy racism are major factors preventing us from joining in the prosperity enjoyed by our more enterprising cousins in the “have” provinces of Canada. Such are the problems […]

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Lazy Historians, Disengaged Academics, and Over Paid Professors?

March 23, 2015

By Thomas Peace With thousands of Toronto-area teaching and research assistants out on strike as well as a very recent faculty strike at the University of Northern British Columbia, opinion-makers have begun to draw up proposed solutions for the ailments of higher education. Not surprisingly, given the frequent attention it draws, most have targeted tenured and […]

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The Sugar Monster Feeds on the Navajo Nation

March 21, 2015

Former Active History editor, Brittany Luby, an assistant professor of history at Laurentian University, was unable to attend this week’s annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) in Washington, D.C. and asked if we could host a video of her presentation: “The Sugar Monster Feeds on the Navajo Nation: An Analysis of […]

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“Working on the Water, Fighting for the Land”: A New Comic Book about Colonialism, Capitalism, and Indigenous Labour History

March 20, 2015

By Sean Carleton In the fall of 2013, Active History.ca featured a blog post by the Graphic History Collective announcing the start of the Graphic History Project, an online series of short, accessible, and free historical comic books. In addition to outlining the aims and aspirations of the Graphic History Project, the post publicized the […]

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