Vaccines and US

COVID-19 and History

While the pandemic caused by COVID-19 may seem like something we have never experienced before, the truth is that global health emergencies can be found throughout human history. How have Americans responded to past pandemics? How have Americans responded to past vaccination efforts? Putting the current moment in historic context can help us make choices that have the power to improve our nation's future.

Vaccination in American History

Reverend Cotton Mather learned about smallpox inoculation from an enslaved worker, Onesimus, and used this insight to help reduce a major smallpox outbreak in Boston in 1721. Yet some city leaders strongly opposed the practice as risky and against nature. Between the early 1940s and the early 2020s, new vaccines were developed for nearly 20 diseases, helping to reduce infant and childhood mortality worldwide. Concerns about vaccine risk and how to communicate their public health benefits remain an important part of public and political discourse.

Historic Perspectives

Explore the National Museum of American History's antibody collections and listen to a set of discussions that offer historical perspective on issues we face today.