Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

How A Smallpox Inoculation Campaign Killed Benjamin Franklin’s Son

The vaccine industry dismisses anecdotes of vaccine injury but loves to hijack anecdotes of infectious disease. One such example is Benjamin Franklin’s son, who died of smallpox while still a toddler. Pro-vaccinationists use this to bash anti-vaccinationists, pointing out that his son was not inoculated. Ironically, it was inoculation that likely spread smallpox to Franklin’s son and by-extension killed them.

Inoculation – poking people from puss extracted from smallpox postules – was the precursor to vaccination. The logic was that it was supposedly safer than catching wild smallpox. Even if so, inoculation had a deadly secret: inoculated people could spread the virus to uninoculated people without showing symptoms. This made smallpox much easier to spread.

So while Franklin’s son was not inoculated, people he came into contact with almost certainly were. So inoculated people shed the virus and Franklin’s young son caught it. Since he was already sick, smallpox was especially dangerous to him. As a result, Franklin’s son died at the age of four – killed ultimately as a result of inoculation. Yet it is still occasionally trotted out by pro-vaccinationists to make the case for vaccination. In reality, it is a cautionary tale that is historically analogous to modern vaccine safety issues.