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Farming for Health: Environmental Histories of Vaccine Production

Thu, March 31, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Cascade 1C

Session Submission Type: Panel

Abstract

This session is sponsored by HEHN: the History of Environment and Health Network.

This panel focuses attention on the laboratories and farms where vaccines and anti-toxins were developed and produced, to consider the environmental histories involved in the cultivation of very particular crops: the living material needed to protect against or cure infectious diseases. The three papers draw on examples from the United States and Canada, with attention to vaccines and antitoxins used for a range of diseases (smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis) that posed serious threats to human health in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The panel explores the ecological ramifications of the rise of the germ theory of disease and the place of vaccination in biomedical responses to germs. The papers collectively assess the place of animals (cows, horses, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys) in the production of vaccines; the experiences of these animals as part of biomedical commerce; the impacts on the animals, pathogens, and the laboratory or “farm” environments in which they lived; and the concerns and ethics that framed the use of animals in the service of human health. The panel will include a commentary from Elena Conis (Emory University), whose expertise on the history of vaccination includes work on the environmental ethics underlying contemporary vaccination resistance. In this fashion, the panel hopes to bring the history of vaccines at the turn of the twentieth century, into conversation with present-day concerns about risk and the safety of vaccination as a public health response to the ongoing dangers posed by infectious diseases.

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