Convincing the 'Herd' of immunity: Lessons from smallpox vaccination in 19th century Germany Articles uri icon

publication date

  • December 2022

start page

  • 101193-1

end page

  • 101193-19


  • 47

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1570-677X

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-6130


  • Although vaccination is a cost-effective way to control infectious diseases, it is often met with popular resistance. Studying smallpox in 19th century Germany, this paper explores how economic incentives contribute to this phenomenon. The paper adds to the literature by combining mathematical epidemiology and unpublished archival evidence from two German states - Baden and Wurttemberg. The two states are an intriguing case because their initial conditions and vaccination laws were similar. Despite this, Baden experienced lower smallpox prevalence and higher vaccination uptake than Wurttemberg. The epidemiological model predicts that incentives to vaccinate decline rapidly when immunization reduces prevalence. The archival evidence reveals that Baden offset this decline by creating a public vaccination system which reduced costs for vaccinees and vaccinators alike. This suggests that the high fixed costs of centralized immunization policies can be compensated by economies of scale and popular acceptance.