Did a 1930s cartoon warn about vaccine misinformation?
In May 2021, as more people living in the United States and around the world were vaccinated against COVID-19, misinformation about vaccines became more prevalent, especially on social media.
Some observers pointed out an air of familiarity with many of the more common misconceptions and conspiracy theories about vaccines in general, and the COVID-19 vaccine in particular, and social media users enthusiastically shared what was presented as a nearly century-old cartoon that presciently satirizes such unsubstantiated claims. The cartoon was set against the backdrop of earlier efforts to eradicate the smallpox virus.
For example, on May 2, Padraic Joyce posted a widely shared tweet that contained a cartoon showing various archetypes of vaccine objectors: “anti-vaccination” (wearing a blindfold labeled “prejudice”); “Mr. Negligent”; “Anti-All”; and “Faddist” – a largely archaic word that describes people who turn to alternative or niche health trends, especially diets, in a way that overlooks or contradicts mainstream scientific advice.
These men are shown descending from a cliff labeled “disinformation” into a sea labeled “smallpox”. Joyce added, “Comic strip made in the 1930s. History repeats itself over and over again. “
London Independent used Joyce’s tweet as the basis for an article with the headline “1930s Anti-Vaxxer Mocking Comic Predicts Future.”
Similar online posts, each dating from the 1930s cartoon, appeared in May 2021 and September 2020, but also before the COVID-19 pandemic, in February 2015.
These messages were correct. The cartoon is genuine and was really first released in the 1930s, so we’re giving it a “True” rating.
As explained in a 2012 article on the now defunct comic book history blog Super ITCH, the cartoon “cliff of disinformation” was first published in a 1930 booklet titled “Health in Pictures”. “.
Further excavation suggests that this booklet was published by the American Public Health Association (APHA). Snopes contacted the APHA and obtained several scanned pages of an original copy of “Health in Pictures”, currently stored in the organization’s archives.
These pages can be viewed here, and a copy of the cartoon ‘Cliff of Disinformation’, digitized from its original source, can be viewed below:
The APHA told Snopes that information on the creator of this particular cartoon was not available.
Although the smallpox vaccine was first developed in the 19th century and the disease was eradicated in 1980, for many years its distribution and use was the subject of controversy. Those who opposed the vaccine often used rhetorical strategies that would later be revised in the context of COVID-19, as Paula Larson of the Center for History of Science, Medicine and Technology wrote. ‘University of Oxford.
These included: minimizing the threat of the disease itself; claim that the vaccine causes the disease itself or is ineffective against it; affirming that the vaccination program is part of a larger program against individual freedom; and citing unreliable and unconventional “authorities”.