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DemCP colloquium - ALBERT WU (American University of Paris): "On the Global History of Anti-Vaccination Movements"

When:We 09-12-2020 16:00 - 17:00


This talk explores the global history of anti-vaccination movements through the infamous "Lübeck Disaster." In 1930, seventy-two infants in Lübeck died after being given the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine. The incident generated intense public scrutiny towards the vaccine, which had been developed by the French Pasteurians Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin in the hopes of eradicating tuberculosis. The vaccine had long been controversial: even though scientists had struggled to prove the vaccine’s efficacy, it had nonetheless been adopted and promoted by the League of Nations Health Organization. Anti-vaccination groups in Germany, often religious in composition, mobilized to protest what they saw as a global imposition of “medical tyranny” on the “sovereignty” of the national body.

The talk examines how anti-vaccination groups drew upon competing visions of internationalism, challenging the international scientific collaboration undergirding the BCG vaccine. Anti-vaccination campaigns mobilized alternative transnational networks and legitimized their claims by drawing on the language of anti-imperialism. It was precisely the attempt to place anti-vaccination within a global framework that gave these movements broader appeal. Finally, the talk also considers what lessons can be learned from the Lübeck disaster as the world anticipates a COVID-19 vaccine.

About the Speaker

Albert Wu is an associate professor of history at the American University of Paris. His first book, From Christ to Confucius: German Missionaries, Chinese Christians, and the Globalization of Christianity, 1860-1950, appeared with Yale University Press in 2016. He is currently working on a second book project related to histories of global health.

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