Johnston looks at Anti-Vaccination Movements in history
Robert D. Johnston, associate professor and director of the Teaching of History Program, explores American history of vaccines in his sixth book to argue anti-vaccinationist’s side of the vaccine debate.
His book is currently titled Crusaders Against the Needle: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in American History, but Johnston says ‘crusaders’ is a loaded word and does not get his main idea across to his audienc. Johnston will give the book a more accurate name to the vaccine skeptics’ set of ideas. Johnston has a contract with Oxford University Press to have his sixth book published in the next couple years.
“My main goal as a historian is to get the story right, to understand both sides or all sides of the stories,” said Johnston. After seeing that vaccine controversies over the last decade are related to cases of autism, HPV, influenza and anthrax, Johnston offers anti-vaccinationists the chance to be heard and respected. “We really need a scholarly treatment by a careful historian who goes back and looks at the controversies,” said Johnston. Vaccine skeptics have been known as deluded dangerous, stupid and marginal, according to Johnston, but looking back they are often very thoughtful and well reasoned.
Johnston will focus on tracing back in history where the first anti-vaccination dissident started, sometime in the early eighteenth century, and how it has grown since then, according to Yasin Patel, UIC undergraduate and one of Johnston’s Research Assistants.
Johnston coined the term anti-vaccinationist to define the group of people who oppose vaccination on some level. Johnston discovered two distinct groups that differ in degree of skepticism. “Some are hard-line, very clearly anti-vaccinationists [who] oppose all kinds of vaccines and to the whole idea of vaccines,” said Johnston.
The other group, who Johnston is more interested in and says, is more active and powerful in public discourse and is not anti-vaccination. “They are pro vaccine safety. They believe that, for a variety of reasons, vaccines are not as safe as they should be or that we don’t know about the safety risks,” Johnston said. His book is more devoted to exploring the concerns surrounding these anti-vaccinationits, the vaccine safety advocates.
Funded by the Honors College, Undergraduate Research Experience, UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative, Johnston is working with four undergraduates, including Patel, to track anti-vaccination movements in American history.