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When Cotton Mather Fought The Smallpox
In Boston, where one in six was dying of the plague, the great divine battled for a new and radical idea
August 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 5
The most serious drawbacks of inoculation were its unpredictability and manifest dangerousness. All too often it resulted in severe, even fatal, infection of the inoculated person; all too often it helped spread the disease. By replacing smallpox virus with the virus of cowpox, a disease of cattle, little noxious to man, Jennerian vaccination did away with these hazards. It made smallpox prophylaxis safe and highly efficacious. Where it has become compulsory it has eradicated the dreadful disease almost completely.
Yet the old practice of inoculation died slowly. In some countries it had to be outlawed by decree before enthusiastic adherents were willing to abandon it. To its very end it remained an object of contention. Today, over two and one-quarter centuries after the turbulent days of the Boston controversy, it is nothing more than a memory.