Ben Franklin lost a 4-year-old son to smallpox. He wrote about the incident in his autobiography nearly a half-century later. His words are keenly relevant to the current national conversation about early childhood vaccines, and are worth a close read:
In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.
Many parents in the 1700s avoided inoculating their children for fear of harming them -- just as a minority of parents today refuse to vaccinate due to a drastic misunderstanding of the potential harms and benefits of a vaccination. Franklin ultimately regretted not inoculating his own son (he did so not out of fear of side effects, but because the boy was sick with another illness at the time).
The incident stuck with him so much that he went on to co-author a how-to guide on smallpox inoculation with a London physician.
As I wrote Tuesday, the incredible success of vaccine programs has afforded us the luxury of indulging in ill-informed skepticism of them. Some 250 years ago, the situation was very different.
(A hat tip to Amy Webb on Twitter).