Vaccination Act

Vaccination Act

The UK Vaccination Acts of 1840, 1853 and 1898 reflect the continuing argument over vaccination policy in the United Kingdom. Similar legislation was passed in the USA and other countries.

Alfred Russel Wallace gave an account of smallpox and vaccination in 1895 in which he characterized the historical policies into encouragement, compulsion, and penal compulsion. [] Wallace's views have commonly been considered anti-vaccinationist, however this attribution may not be wholly accurate. ["It is important to note, however, that he never believed--as has been commonly reported--vaccination to have been wholly hurtful historically." Charles H Smith, Western Kentucky University. [] ] Wallace made an argument similar to the one which toward the end of the 20th century been made for polio vaccination, first in the US and later in the UK, that as the prevalence of the disease changes, the approach to immunization must change.


The 1840 Act

*Made variolation illegal.
*Provided vaccination free of charge.

In general, the disadvantages of variolation are the same as those of vaccination, but added to them is the generally agreement that variolation was always more dangerous than vaccination.

Vaccination was first made compulsory in 1853, and the provisions were made more stringent in 1867, 1871, and 1874.

The 1853 Act

By the Act it was required:
*1. That every child, whose health permits, shall be vaccinated within three, or in case of orphanage within four mouths of birth, by the public vaccinator of the district, or by some other medical practitioner.
*2. That notice of this requirement, and information as to the local arrangements for public vaccination, shall, whenever a birth is registered, be given by the registrar of births to the parents or guardians of the child.
*3. That every medical practitioner who, whether in public or private practice, successfully vaccinates a child shall send to the local registrar of births a certificate that he has done so ; and the registrar shall keep a minute of all the notices given, and an account of all the certificates thus received.
*4. That parents or guardians who, without sufficient reason, after having duly received the registrar's notice of the requirement of Vaccination, either omit to have a child duly vaccinated, or, this being done, omit to have it inspected as to the results of Vaccination, shall be liable to a penalty of £1; and all penalties shall be recoverable under Jervis's Act, and shall be paid toward the local poor-rate.

The 1867 Act

The Vaccination Act 1867 (30 & 31 Vict. c. 84) was an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It consolidated and updated the existing laws relating to vaccination, and was repealed by the National Health Service Act 1946.

The poor-law guardians were to control vaccination districts formed out of the parishes, and pay vaccinators from 1"s" to 3"s" per child vaccinated in the district (the amount paid varied with how far they had to travel).

Within seven days of the birth of a child being registered, the registrar was to deliver a notice of vaccination; if the child was not presented to be vaccinated within three months, or brought for inspection afterwards, the parents or guardians were liable to a summary conviction and fine of 20"s".

The Act also provided that any person who produced or attempted to inoculate another with smallpox could be imprisoned for a month.

The 1871 Act

In 1871 another Act was passed appointing a Vaccination Officer, also authorising a defendant to appear in a court of law by any member of his family, or any other person authorised by him.

The 1873 Act

Made vaccination compulsory. Records of the reasoning for this are not widely available. However it is apparent that soon after this there was considerable resistance to the compulsion, and this grew.

The 1885 Royal Commission

Reported 7 years later, in 1892, recommending the abolition of cumulative penalties. []

The 1898 and 1907 Acts

In 1898 a new vaccination law was passed, in some respects modifying, but not superseding, previous Acts, giving conditional exemption of conscientious objectors, (and substituting calf lymph for humanised lymph). It removed cumulative penalties and introduced a conscience clause, allowing parents who did not believe vaccination was efficacious or safe to obtain a certificate of exemption.

The Vaccination Act of 1898 purported to give liberty of non-vaccination, but this liberty was not really obtained. Parents applying for a certificate of exemption had to satisfy two magistrates, or one stipendiary, of their conscientious objections. Some stipendiaries, and many of the magistrates, refused to be satisfied, and imposed delays. Unless the exemption was obtained before the child was four months old, it was too late. The consequence was that in the year 1906, only about 40,000 exemptions were obtained in England and Wales. In the year 1907 the Government recognised that the magistrates had practically declined to carry out the law of 1898, and, consequently, a new law—the Vaccination Act, 1907—was passed. Under this law the parent escaped penalties for the non-vaccination of his child if within four months from the birth he made a statutory declaration that he confidently believed that vaccination would be prejudicial to the health of the child, and within seven days thereafter delivered, or sent by post, the declaration to the Vaccination Officer of the district.

It is the duty of all Magistrates to sign a Statutory Declaration when asked to do so, and the Magistrate's Clerk is entitled to a fee of 1s. Most of the liberal-minded magistrates will witness the Declaration at their own house, or any other convenient place. Some, however, refuse to do that except in the law court. A Statutory Declaration may also be witnessed by a Commissioner for Oaths, and some other officials.


In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in the 1905 case "Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts" that the state could require individuals to be vaccinated for the common good. Common contemporary vaccination policies require, subject to exemptions, that children receive common vaccinations before entering school.


Further reading

*"Moore's Almanack improved: or Will's farmer's and countryman's calendar for the year 1869". Joseph Greenhill, London, 1869

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