Université de Strasbourg

Fellows Seminar - France’s first vaccine campaign

May 21, 2024
From 12:00 until 14:30
MISHA, Strasbourg

Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France

By Meghan Roberts, 2023 Fellow

In the 18th century, smallpox was one of Europe’s deadliest and most feared diseases. Inspired by Turkish and African practitioners, Europeans had practiced inoculation – deliberate infection via pus taken from a smallpox patient – since the 1720s, but the practice remained controversial, expensive, and limited in France.

Then, in 1800, French doctors learned about vaccination, which entailed injecting patients with harmless cowpox instead of deadly smallpox. This time, medical experts were determined to overcome the challenges that had stymied the progress of inoculation. They conducted spectacular public experiments to prove the vaccine’s efficacy and developed new methods of data collection.

Crucially, the French state was likewise motivated to promote smallpox vaccination, mobilizing prefects and mayors across the nation and establishing vaccine committees (comités de vaccine) in major cities. This talk looks at the cities of Nancy and Strasbourg as case studies for examining how these campaigns worked on the ground.

France 2030