Bioethics Blogs

A Necessary Retelling of the Smallpox Vaccine Story

A curious confluence
of events unfolded Tuesday night. Just hours before President Obama uttered the
powerful “science and reason matter” in his farewell address, Robert F. Kennedy
Jr. announced that the incoming president had tapped him to head a committee on
vaccine safety.

RFK Jr. is not a
pediatric immunologist nor an epidemiologist, but a vocal
 Although the
PEOTUS dialed back on the purported appointment shortly after social media
erupted, a 
tweet from March 28, 2014 makes his analysis
of the history and science of vaccines clear: Healthy young child goes
to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesnt feel good and
changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!

As a child I devoured
books on the history of medicine. One of my favorite stories was how
 developed the
first vaccine, testing an approach that had been used for centuries. Knowing
his story made me understand why my little sister had to shriek her way through
shots for the “childhood diseases,” while I’d suffered through chickenpox,
mumps, and both types of measles. My pediatrician predicted I’d end up deaf and
brain damaged after a month with measles.

Now I think the tale
of Edward Jenner needs retelling, for those who may not have heard it.


A vaccine is a
pathogen, or part of one, whose presence in a human body is sufficient to evoke
an immune response, yet not complete or active enough to transmit the illness.
When the vaccinated person encounters the wild pathogen, the protective
antibody response is immediate, thanks to immune memory.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.