Week 9: (Anti-)Vaccination Group Updates and Individual Rough Draft

Group Presentation + Chapter Progress: 

The format of my group, the (Anti)-Vaccination group, will be a chapter organized to portray a progression of time to relate between our individual chapters. 

Here are our collective notes and proposed outline for the flow of the work: 

Progression of time:

  • “Past” - Carolyn

    • Compare and contrast past and present 

    • Continuing themes between the two 

    • Loudness in protest but people think vaccines are safe

    • Main sections

      • intro/context about COVID-19 and anti-vax in the COVID-19 age

      • Short history of vaccines/anti-vaccination in response 19th century to present

        • Smallpox vaccine & Edward Jenner

        • MMR + autism 

      • Cartoons: how satire has been used past + present

      • Examples of anti vaccination propaganda

        • Similarities past + present

          • Liberties, freedom vs. public health 

          • Religion 

      • Exhibitions: Art of Saving a Life and Immune Nations

      • Conclusion

        • Most people think they are safe

        • Anti-vax voices are loud but hopefully consensus remains supportive in light of covid-19 

  • Present 

    • Amy

      • WHO named “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019 - this is partially because of a lack of education 

      • Use a disability justice-informed lens to explore how various artists and movements can be then used to galvanize people to understand vaccines (and eventually get vaccinated when it is available) 

    • Jennifer 

      • Protesting stay at home orders and vaccine development 

      • Media tactics involved in generating fear - misinformation being spread

      • Cultural comparison between collectivist and individualist cultures and how that influences the response to COVID-19

        • Look at the media tactics used by each 

  • Future - Priam

    • Implications of the sped-up development of vaccines 

      • Doubt about the safety of the vaccine - how will this affect people’s willingness to get vaccinated? 

      • Can inform the future 

    • Implications of sped-up development of medications 

    • Art: using 3D models to analyze the structure and functions of particular models

Art & Vaccines: A Visual Journey through the Vaccination and Anti-Vaccination Movements of Yesterday and Today

Introduction & Context

The issue of vaccination has increased in salience over recent months as COVID-19 has disrupted our human way of life: believers that the virus and vaccine itself are all part of a global conspiracy and others, including celebrities, who already had identified with the modern anti-vaccination movement have been vocal in their opposition.  Recently, the world's current #1 men's tennis player Novak Djokovic, whose influence was described by fellow Serbian tennis player Nikola Milojevic as extending "to every Serbian with a racquet", made statements about his views on vaccines and the possibility that he would not vaccinate himself against COVID-19 in the future (4,5).  Luckily, Djokovic's comments were quickly blasted by a top Serbian government scientist (6).  Anti-vaccination views such as those from prominent figures in the US like President Donald Trump (he has since backtracked in light of the measles outbreak) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the former senator, and celebrities including Jessica Biel, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey, are similarly concerning although hopefully these views are much less "contagious" in their spread than the coronavirus (7, 8).  Although most of the world is likely on board with vaccination to combat the global health crisis, the idea of a COVID-19 vaccine has been met with opposition by prominent anti-vaxxers, and conspiracy theories such as those about Bill Gates and his involvement in funding research for a global vaccine continue to spread [--].  Variations of the theory believe that Gates has been "calling the shots", no pun intended, on COVID-19 for his own personal gain or to control the world by injecting tracking devices.  The COVID-19 pandemic, the potential discovery of a vaccine, and the problem of administering such a vaccine to the world will undoubtedly affect global perception of vaccines.  While the idea of "anti-vaxxers", as those who are opposed to vaccination are often referred to as, is in some ways a recent phenomenon particularly in developed countries like the United States or France, opposition to vaccination has existed for as long as there have been vaccines: the term "anti-vaxxer" may be new, but opposition to vaccination is anything but.   Art as expression of the debate has long explored the strong emotions that vaccination evokes, the complex societal implications, and related geopolitical and socioeconomic factors.  The controversy over vaccination is and has been brought to life by proponents, protestors, and others through satire and cartoons, illustrations used by anti-vaxxers of the past and present, and through recent exhibitions and art collections such as The Art of Saving a Life

Short History of Vaccines & Anti-Vaccination Responses Through Time

Edward Jenner

Satirical Cartoons

Satire and cartoons have long caricatured anti-vaccination movements and their supporters, and highlighted how their fears are often not grounded in science and how their actions put public health at risk.  Satire is a powerful form of art that can easily and skillfully combine humorous elements with powerful social commentary.  Cartoons about the modern anti-vaccination movement are common today, but the method of satire through art in cartoons has a longer history as well.  The anti-vaccination movement and satirization of its fear-mongering tendencies has been documented by illustrations and cartoons from 19th century England generated in response to English physician Edward Jenner's experiments with inoculation of humans with cowpox to prevent smallpox infection in 1796, which he called a "vaccine", and laws requiring compulsory vaccination against smallpox (14, 15). 

Caricature by artist James Gillray satirizing controversy over Jenner’s smallpox vaccine, as opponents feared the appearance of cow features given inoculation with cowpox, 1802 [1]

Anti-vaccination movements expanded beyond England in the centuries following Jenner’s smallpox vaccine and there was organized opposition in the United States and Canada as well.  As such, it is not surprising to find satirical cartoons like the   

One new development differentiating anti-vaxxers of the present from the past came as a result of a (now widely discredited and retracted) study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield suggesting a link between autism in children and the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine [4].  Today, modern anti-vaxxers often cite a link between autism and vaccines, and although there is consensus among scientists that there is no evidence to support such a relationship the impact of Wakefield's study continues to be widespread [4].​  The influence from this study and the power it gave to the anti-vaccination movement may help to explain lower rates of vaccination with the MMR vaccine and outbreaks of measles in parts of the United States and Europe.  Many cartoonists have recently explored the subject of anti-vaccination in the wake of such outbreaks, and the cartoons balance politics, humor, and social commentary quite artfully. 



Cartoonist Michael Luckovich references recent measles outbreaks​ in this 2019 cartoon [13]

Anti-Vaccination Propaganda

Satirical cartoons about anti-vaxxers exemplify how different art forms are useful in social commentary, however art and protest are also powerful forms utilized by those part of anti-vaccination movements themselves. Illustrations from anti-vaccination groups and photographs from anti-vaxxer protests often invoke appeals to civil liberties and draw on conspiracy.  Similarities exist between modern anti-vaxxers and 19th century anti-vaccination advocates in England, as it has long been argued that vaccinations infringe on personal freedoms [1]. The Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League was founded in 1867 amidst riots and protests in response to compulsory vaccination laws by people who believed that the requirement of vaccination infringed on personal choice and liberty, a sentiment that is echoed by modern anti-vaxxers who emphasize civil liberties and a right to do what they choose with their bodies [1].  Similar groups spread beyond nineteenth century England and groups such as The Anti-Vaccination Society of America existed in the twentieth century as well [1].  Most of the illustrations used in pamphlets and other distributed materials by these groups suggests that members were highly concerned with the vaccination of children especially, and the choice of parents to not allow vaccination.  This parallels the modern anti-vaccination movement as well as controversy over vaccination and protests today often center around laws regarding vaccination of children in school.  

Poster from Montreal with Victorian age image promotes conspiracy that vaccination was for monetary gain, not for health reasons, 1885 [14]

Anti-vaxxers protesting a California law removing religious and personal belief exemptions [15]

anti vaccine protest coroanvirus

Opposition to vaccines has also been on religious and ethical grounds, as Jenner’s smallpox vaccine came from animals and vaccination involved cutting open the skin [5].  While no major religion prohibits vaccination outright today, there is some opposition on religious grounds including from select Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities.  Some Muslim authorities have previously spoken out against vaccines due to claims that vaccines contain pork products, although Islamic leaders signed the Dakar Declaration on Vaccination in 2017 which advocated for the necessity of vaccination to protect children from infectious diseases (18). Some Christian sects discourage vaccination, although this is not the norm (19).  Measles outbreaks in ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in NY and Amish areas in the US may be related to lower vaccination rates in these communities (20, 21). Practically all states in the US permit application for religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination based on religious beliefs and objections (22). 

Recent Art Exhibitions and Collections at the Intersection of Vaccines & Art  

“Immune Nations” and “The Art of Saving a Life” include a variety of art forms

- need to work on this paragraph in the future

Portrait featuring Dr. Edward Jenner inoculating James Phipps, the first person to receive the smallpox vaccine by artist Alexia Sinclair as part of “The Art of Saving a Life”, a campaign and art collection sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014 [2]


It is important to note that while those opposed to vaccination may have been and continue to be outspoken in their opposition throughout history, their views are not representative of most people in America or the world today.  The Wellcome Global Monitor survey conducted by Gallup World Poll in 2018, which surveyed more than 140,000 people in over 140 countries, paints a picture of the current state of global perspectives on vaccines.  Key findings include that, globally, "79% of people agree that vaccines are safe" and "92% of parents worldwide say their children have received a vaccine to prevent them from getting childhood diseases" (9).  Trust in vaccines was found to be "strongly linked to trust in scientists and medical professionals" (10). Yet in countries such as France where trust in vaccines is low and a significant number of parents reported not vaccinating their children, such beliefs and behaviors may be contributing to rising numbers of measles and meningococcal disease cases (11). Interestingly, the survey found that "people living in high-income countries have the lowest confidence in vaccines" (12).  An explanation for this finding was offered by the Wellcome Trust’s head of public engagement Imran Khan, who believes that a “complacency effect” could explain why wealthier countries had lower levels of trust in the safety of vaccines compared to other countries that have experienced the suffering from infectious diseases without having vaccines to prevent it (13).  One would hope that this "complacency" and the danger it poses to public health with regard to vaccination has been removed in the midst of COVID-19, but recent protests suggest that a small but powerful minority of people continues to resist vaccination for a variety of reasons.

**I am currently working on organizing references, but they are all posted on my earlier blogs.