Public’s opinions on vaccination reviewed

IMAGINE vaccinating 21 children in one day to protect them against diphtheria, and finding 48 hours later that more than half had died from being inoculated with staphylococci.

It happened in 1928 to Dr Ewing George Thomson, a GP from Bundaberg in south-east Queensland, whose store of vaccine became contaminated.

A Royal Commission ensued, and it recommended against the use of multi-dose vials unless they contained preservative.

The tragedy, which sent shock waves around the world and led to the introduction of thimerosal (thiomersal) in vaccines, is recalled in a new book by American journalist Seth Mnookin, The Panic Virus: Fear, Myth and the Vaccination Debate (Black Inc, Collingwood).

Mr Mnookin reviews the swinging pendulum of popular opinion for and against immunisation, drawing parallels between the resistance to smallpox vaccination which flourished along with the Utopian and spiritualist movements in the 19th century, and the rise