Most Jehovah’s Witnesses will be completely unaware of the Watchtower Society’s (WTS) once firm position against the “crime” of vaccination. During the centuries great plagues and illnesses have taken hundreds of millions of victims, sometimes even devastated civilizations. In the early part of the last century humanity was on the verge of a new age, when plagues as old as mankind were about to be extinguished. The tool was compulsory vaccination programs. Especially smallpox, one of the most deadly diseases in history, was targeted for extermination, and thanks to the vaccination program this was accomplished.
The WTS did not consider this program a benefit to humankind:
“Thinking people would rather have smallpox than vaccination, because the latter sows seeds of syphilis, cancers, eczema, erysipelas, scrofula, consumption, even leprosy and many other loathsome affections. Hence the practice of vaccinations is a crime, an outrage, and a delusion” (Golden Age, Jan. 5,1929, p. 502)
Yes, a vaccination was “a crime” and was sometimes likened to a rape (like JWs today say about blood transfusions). Moreover, like almost everything else it has been used as a “sign of the last days:”
“Vaccination never prevented anything and never will, and is the most barbarous practice. . . We are in the last days; and the devil is slowly losing his hold, making a strenuous effort meanwhile to do all the damage he can, and to his credit can such evils be placed. . . . Use your rights as American citizens to forever abolish the devilish practice of vaccinations.” (Golden Age, Oct. 12, 1921, p. 17)
In the world view of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then as now, the three major evil forces in the world are false religion, governments which are ruled by Satan, and the oppressive Big Business. It was the latter that was responsible for the misinformation campaign that vaccinations were beneficial:
“The public is not generally aware of how large an industry is the manufacture of serums, anti-toxins and vaccines, or that big business controls the whole industry. . . . the boards of health endeavor to start an epidemic of smallpox, diphtheria, or typhoid that they may reap a golden harvest by inoculating an unthinking community for the very purpose of disposing of this manufactured filth.” (The Golden Age, Jan. 3, 1923, p. 214)
If these conspiracy theories sound familiar it’s because they are nearly identical to more recent articles in the same magazine, now called Awake!, which ran a series of articles under this cover story:
“Selling Blood Is Big Business”
The objective of the series was to give the impression that blood was “red gold” (compare with expression “golden harvest” used above) and that the International Red Cross is guilty of massive deception by using unethical methods to sell blood for profit (Awake! Oct. 22, 1990).
Thankfully, the religious fanatics who opposed the vaccination programs failed. If they hadn’t, they would be guilty of millions of deaths up to this date. We can only hope that the fanatics who ban the medical use of blood and blood products will also fail.
The WTS primary argument against vaccinations seems to have been that this was “animal filth” that would “pollute” humanity. According to The Golden Age, vaccinations not only caused all kind of dreadful diseases, including the Spanish Flu, it even retarded the intellect of men and caused moral bankruptcy:
“..much looseness of our day along sexual lines may be traceable to the easy and continual violation of the divine commands to keep human and animal blood apart from each other. With cells of foreign blood racing through his veins a man is not normal, not himself, but lacks the poise and balance which makes for self control.” (Golden Age, Feb. 4, 1931, p. 293)
We find these same arguments applied to organ transplants and blood transfusions later!
Most interestingly, the WTS did, in the same magazine, give some “Biblical” arguments for refusing vaccinations:
“Vaccination is a direct violation of the everlasting covenant that God made with Noah after the flood.” (ibid.)
This was the first time in our history that the blood prohibition was applied to Christians, earlier it was applied to Jews only. Considering the evidence we have just seen, we may wonder why anyone would trust the judgment and advice of the WTS.
Blood transfusions were not an issue this early. However, in Consolation (the interim name of The Golden Age) Dec. 25, in 1940, p. 19, we find a news item about a self-sacrificing physician who gave his own blood and thereby saved a woman’s life. Only in the late 1940s does the WTS explicitly condemn blood transfusions as “unscriptural,” using exactly the same arguments as they had earlier used to ban vaccinations.
At the same time, the WTS could no longer sustain the idea that vaccinations did not work. In The Watchtower, Dec. 15 1952, p. 764, the dramatic reversal is hidden in a Question from Readers section:
• Is vaccination a violation of God’s law forbidding the taking of blood into the system? -G. C., North Carolina.
The motive for the quick turnabout is immediately apparent from the answer:
“The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself. . .. And our Society cannot afford to be drawn into the affair legally or take the responsibility for the way the case turns out.”
It was quite obvious to the WTS that a vaccination ban could easily cost many lives, and there is little doubt that it did cost lives. However, the threat of financial cost to the WTS brought around “new light” on the question. Herein may lie the key to bringing about reform on the blood issue. The WTS does not want to litigate its position, and they still can’t afford to be drawn into a legal battle because the stakes are so high the potential wrongful death claims could bankrupt it.
All previous “Biblical” arguments against vaccinations were suddenly found irrelevant (or, if you will, the “Society cannot afford” to uphold them). Incidentally, the person most responsible for the WTS ludicrous position on vaccination was Clayton Woodworth who had died exactly one year earlier. Apparently this cleared the way for reform on vaccination:
“After consideration of the matter, it does not appear to us to be in violation of the everlasting covenant made with Noah, as set down in Genesis 9:4, nor contrary to God’s related commandment at Leviticus 17:10-14. Most certainly it cannot reasonably or Scripturally be argued and proved that, by being vaccinated, the inoculated person is either eating or drinking blood and consuming it as food or receiving a blood transfusion. Vaccination does not bear any relationship to or any likeness to the intermarriage of angelic “sons of God” with the daughters of men, as described in Genesis 6:1-4. Neither can it be put in the same class as described at Leviticus 18:23, 24, which forbids the mingling of humans with animals. It has nothing to do with sex relations.”
Not a single word of apology was ever issued to those who risked and – in some cases – wasted their lives believing in fairy-tales from WTS leaders who claimed to speak for God. But even then the Society did not fully retract their formerly used “medical arguments.” It merely stated:
“Medical science, in fact, claims that vaccination actually results in building up the vitality of the blood to resist the disease against which the person is inoculated. But, of course, that is a question for each individual concerned to decide for himself and as he sees it to be Jehovah’s will for him.”
What word of comfort was offered to those who had believed the nonsense?
“We merely offer the above information on request, but can assume no responsibility for the decision and course the reader may take.”
Will those Jehovah’s Witnesses who lost their loved ones find comfort in a similar statement when the WTS leaders are finally forced to abandon their current blood policy?
Thank you for this excellent article. The WT didn’t know what it was talking about when it came to vaccination, and they still don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to blood.
BTW: The political cartoons are misidentified. The first one is from Golden Age March 30, 1932 p. 409. The second, “the pus highball,” is from Consolation, May 31, 1939, p.5. These are available at http://avoidjw.org/magazines/
I believe science is profit driven and vaccines took credit for what good water and sewers did. Hygiene and proper nutrition get no credit even though if you track deaths from diseases they were almost eliminated already before the vaccines came out.
We agree that clean water, and good sanitation are essential to preventing disease. However, vaccination is also proven to do so, and is essential.