Considering the “public” in public health: popular resistance to the Smallpox Eradication Programme in India
Public health initiatives, including large-scale vaccination and disease eradication programmes, regularly pit the rights of the individual against broader benefits to society. At times, the public resists such initiatives, with the World Health Organisation’s Smallpox Eradication Programme (SEP) in India being a case in point. Here, we critically investigate resistance to smallpox vaccines in India and argue that while the SEP successfully eradicated a global killer; individuals were stripped of human rights through coercion, forcible vaccination and quarantine. In many cases, resistance to vaccination was linked to deep-rooted social, cultural and religious beliefs. Critical points made in this paper are applicable to contemporary discussions on required vaccinations, quarantine during the outbreak of diseases and the current campaign to eradicate polio.
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