We Can Learn A Lesson From Leicester

If you think the resistance to the COVID jab mandates is the first real push back on government, think again. It’s not the first rodeo. In fact, people have been pushing back for 150 years.

The time is 19th century Victorian England, and smallpox is ravaging the country since medieval times. The disease became the biggest cause of death in Europe, with 400,000 dead every year. If a person survived, one in three was blinded and all were certainly scarred for life from the “speckled monster.”

In Gloucestershire in 1798, a doctor named Edward Jenner successfully showed that administration of a very small dose of relatively mild cowpox infection protected humans from smallpox. (By the way, did you know that Jenner tested this on children before publishing his ideas?) The idea spread like wildfire, and Jenner didn’t even have Bill Gates to help! Within five years, the vaccines were being used across Europe, and within 10 years, across the world. However, the first mass vaccination campaign in Italy in 1805 failed miserably.

Was there opposition? Certainly, and it was not that much different from today, actually. People were opposed scientifically, politically and religiously. Some felt that using disease from cows was not Christian. Some believed smallpox was not passed from person to person.

Regardless of the reasons, enough people had enough reasons. They were particularly upset when the vaccines were mandated. Well, to be fair, first they were free, then they were mandated, and then if you didn’t get one, you could be fined and imprisoned. Sound familiar?

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in protest and people were indeed fined and arrested. Nevertheless, the protests continued. The people carried banners that said “Repeal the Vaccination Acts, the curse of our nation”. They chanted: “Better a felon’s cell than a poisoned babe”. They burned copies of the mandate laws in the streets, and even did mock hangings of effigies of the humble country doctors who the people blamed for implementing the government mandate.

Keep in mind that this took place during the Industrial Revolution, and people were already demanding their rights to job safety and other working-class rights. The people distrusted the upper classes and felt taken advantage of. Sound familiar?

Also keep in mind that Victorian medicine was not the heyday of science. Common causes of illness included wet feet and night air. Cholera was thought to be caused by cold fruits like cucumbers or passionate rage. (Does this mean if you got mad while eating a cucumber salad, you were essentially toast?) Ah, those blasted cucumbers! Things like this are well documented in medical books from 1848. Germ theory didn’t come into being until the 1880s. Life was hard, with a life expectancy a bit above age 40 and with 15 percent of children dying before their first birthday from a whole host of ailments.

City slums were breeding grounds for disease, but vaccinations were brand new and people were skeptical. Doctors couldn’t explain how the jabs worked, you know like today’s “trust the science, we are the science” mantra. Smallpox shots were also administered with live viruses, and were not safe. Doctors were not regulated until 1851 either. With that Molotov cocktail concoction, people indeed became seriously ill and even died after the jabs. The vaccines had no quality control. The cowpox material they produced varied in quality and content (much like Pfizer and Moderna today). The procedures were often boggled, and people ended up with secondary infections like tuberculosis and syphilis. And scientists didn’t know what we know today – that vaccines do not give lifelong immunity.

So for many, it was the last straw when the government was now encroaching into personal health, mandating things that were private and that had never before been governed.

The First Anti-Vaxxers

Vaccination had become more and more intrusive in Victorian England. Vaccine legislation made the jabs free in 1840, but by 1853 they were mandatory for all children before the age of three months. By 1867, all children under age 14 were mandated.

A group in the town of Leicester in the English midlands had had enough, but rather than riot, they took a more civil approach to become the world’s first anti-vaxxers by creating the Leicester Anti-Vaccination League. They reached out to an ever-increasing literate public, with printed pamphlets stating both pros and cons of the jabs. And people talked. A lot.

The league in Leicester pointed to continued outbreaks and the devastating side effects of vaccination, such as cross-infection. All the while, vax supporters touted decreases in death rates and milder smallpox occurrence. Is this eerily familiar or what?

In 1885, the government prosecuted 3,000 unvaccinated people. Despite pleas to relax these prosecutions, the government doubled down, and 20,000 townspeople protested in a famous mass gathering that same year. The massive scale of the protest unnerved city authorities.

And Leicester townspeople kept resisting. Only about 30 percent jabbed their newborns. Instead, the league advocated public health measures rather than vaccination. City magistrates were both fed up with the protests and scared of the people, so the city powers that be gave in to the league’s recommended approach of tried-and-true methods. This soon became known as the Leicester method, a cheap and effective alternative.

First, the city massively improved sanitation. The city also required people to report cases of smallpox, then they quarantined actual cases of disease (not everyone), and used surveillance and contact tracing. They helped to disinfect the homes of people who had smallpox, and burned clothing and bedding of infected individuals. The local medical establishment even supported the measures.

History Indeed Repeats Itself

We can all learn a lesson from Leicester. Really, we’re not all that different. Leicester, like most of us today, valued civil rights and fought against an imposing, restrictive government. We wrote about this exact thing in 2019 as it relates to smallpox. Pro-vaccination advocates thought it was fine to impose laws to deplete individual rights for the sake of the population, you know like this modern-day article from Berkeley: How to Keep the Greater Good in Mind During the Coronavirus Outbreak.

When another wave of smallpox hit Victorian England between 1892 and 1894. Leicester fared well, with only 370 cases (or 20.5 cases per 10,000 people) and only 21 deaths – figures far lower than the highly vaccinated nearby towns of Warrington and Sheffield. By 1898, new legislation allowed for conscientious objection to opt out of the jab for moral reasons. Smallpox returned to Britain in the early 1900s, but never was the same threat as before.

Ironically, a reporter in 2021 who reflected on the Leicester history made this statement: “Things were just so different then. People who objected to the vaccine were treated with disdain, they just wanted someone to listen to them. There were a lot of half-truths and misinformation spreading but instead of addressing those issues, those who were vaccine hesitant were criminalised.” Sound familiar?

Things are not different at all. History does repeat itself. As the United States is about to celebrate another Independence Day holiday, remember the Leicester resistance. We can learn a lesson from a bunch of Victorian anti-vaxxers. A toast to Leicester! Huzzah!





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Fed Up Texas Chick is a contributing writer for The Tenpenny Report. She’s a rocket scientist turned writer, having worked in the space program for many years. She is a seasoned medical writer and researcher who is fighting for medical freedom for all of us through her work. A special thanks to the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society for select photos.

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