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Gen. George Washington Ordered Smallpox Inoculations for All Troops

Old photo of George Washington in battle

George Washington rallies his troops at the Battle of Monmouth in a painting by Emanuel Leutze, 1857 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress).

8/16/2021By: Janet A. Aker, MHS Communications

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Recommended Content: Military Medical History | Immunizations

In late 1776, as Gen. George Washington led his troops through the opening battles of the American Revolution, it was not necessarily the enemy fighters who posed the biggest risk to the fledgling U.S. Army.

An estimated 90% of deaths in the Continental Army were caused by disease, and the most vicious were variants of smallpox, according to the U.S. Library of Congress.

That’s why Gen. Washington made the controversial decision to order the mass inoculation of his soldiers, an effort to combat the spread of the disease that was at the time a major deterrent to enlistments and posed the risk of debilitating his army and tipping the balance of power against America’s first warfighters.

According to the U.S. Library of Congress’s Science, Technology, and Business Division, the smallpox inoculations began Jan. 6, 1777, for all of Washington’s forces who came through the then-capital of Philadelphia, and through Morristown, New Jersey, following the Battle of Princeton.

Smallpox is a potentially fatal disease that starts with fever and vomiting and an outbreak of ulcers in the mouth and a skin rash. The skin rash turns into highly contagious fluid-filled blisters. The fatality rate was very high.

Inoculations were far more primitive – and dangerous – than today’s vaccinations. The most common method was to cut a person’s skin and rub the minor incision with a thread or cloth contaminated with a less-virulent version of smallpox, which in this case was a strain known as “variola.”

At the time, most English troops were immune to variola, and their immunity gave them an “enormous advantage against the vulnerable colonists,” according to the library. By contrast, less than a quarter of the American colonial troops had ever had the virus.

Washington knew a mass inoculation campaign could backfire and might cause more disease than it prevented. He also feared the mandatory inoculations would harm recruitment.

Nevertheless, after weighing the odds, Washington informed Congress on Feb. 5, 1777, of his plans for mass inoculation. The general’s plans contraindicated a 1776 proclamation by the Continental Congress prohibiting inoculations.

A Feb. 6 letter to Dr. William Shippen from Washington states: “Finding smallpox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running through the whole of our Army, I have determined that the troops shall be inoculated. This expedient may be attended with some inconvenience and some disadvantages but yet I trust its consequences will have the happiest effects. Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army in the natural way and rage with its usual virulence, we have more to dread from it than from the sword of the enemy.”

Throughout February, the inoculations across the entire force were carried out in the model of the initial efforts in Morristown and Philadelphia.

Washington’s strategy was largely successful.

“The isolated infections that sprung up among Continental regulars during the southern campaign failed to incapacitate a single regiment,” the Library reported.

You can read more on the first mass military inoculation at the Library of Congress’s Science section.

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Vaccine mandates have been around for decades. Every state in America has vaccine mandates. No religious exemptions. We don’t have measles, polio, rubella outbreaks anymore. We have virtually eliminated many diseases. Vaccines work. Stop politicizing vaccines. You are creating a health crisis for America. We keep getting stronger mutations because unvaccinated humans serve as incubators.

As much as people like to debate the issue, the only way to stop Covid is to vaccinate the masses. We need X, a certain percentage (80%, 90%? What percent?) to stop Covid and end Covid for all time. We did it with polio, smallpox, and other deadly diseases. But we need to start caring about other people and not simply ourselves. When did so many people lose their empathy for the suffering of others? Time to feel our loving oneness. Time for unity consciousness.

Time to protect the public and the children who can not yet be vaccinated. It’s not ok to spread disease and death. It was illegal to spread AIDS. Now it should be a crime to spread COVID.

Soon people begin suing those who spread diseases. Coming soon to the world, health passes for this and all future pandemics that threaten the liberty of all to move freely in the world without masks. We need to educate our children. They need to go to school. And yes, masks can come off if enough of us are vaccinated. We need more people vaccinated.

We eliminated many diseases, like smallpox, mumps, measles, polio, etc. We can eliminate COVID and all diseases like these but we need to think not only of ourselves but about all those around us that may get hurt and killed by catching these deadly diseases.

Covid’s not the first pandemic and it will not be the last. Our planet has a history of pandemics.

Vaccines have been around for hundreds of years. Washington required his troops to be vaccinated against smallpox so they could win the war and not be defeated by diseases. We’ve all been vaccinated. We are required to get vaccines to go to school. Babies are vaccinated at birth. We get vaccinated for jobs, travel, military. This is nothing political. This is about the health and welfare of the citizens of our planet.

Meanwhile, Denmark is taking off the masks and removing Covid restrictions. They have a vaccination rate of 80%. Perhaps the US is close but we just need to push this a little bit further, coast to coast. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to the way it was pre-Covid in 2019?

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May be an image of text that says 'I don't know who needs to hear this but Polio and smallpox never reached natural herd immunity. They were eradicated by vaccines.'
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