Globe and Mail: How lessons from the past can help shape future health outcomes

Excerpt from the Globe and Mail. Read the full article by clicking the button below.

Today, vaccine hesitancy is considered a major health threat by the WHO. Beyond prioritizing personal choices and being exposed to misinformation, Dr. Duffin sees another reason for why people are no longer so eager to get vaccinated.

“We have been successful in dramatically reducing the incidence of diseases like diphtheria, whooping cough and measles with routine vaccination, so people have forgotten how horrible these diseases are,” she says. “With diphtheria, it can look like your child is being strangled to death. With whooping cough, your child would be unable to breathe. And measles can come with excruciating rash and brain fever.”

History shows a pattern where vaccine uptake grew as news of suffering in nearby areas spread, Dr. Duffin explains. “People would hear about an epidemic in the region. They then went to a doctor wanting to be vaccinated. It’s hard to show the impact of vaccines beyond the number of lives saved, since we don’t have a suffering meter.”

That’s where the Museum of Health Care aims to make a contribution. “Our objects can tell a million stories, not just about vaccines but also about vaccine hesitancy,” says Ms. McGowan. “A lot of the discussion that was the backlash against the smallpox vaccine, for example, is not that different from what you hear today. It is really interesting to see this continuity.”

The question then becomes what lessons we are willing to learn, and Ms. McGowan believes that seeing an iron lung, a smallpox vaccination certificate or a poster about wearing a mask during the 1918-19 influenza epidemic can provide an extra incentive for seeking out valid evidence.

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