Public health is an important function of North Carolina and Mecklenburg County governments. Last year was the hundredth anniversary of the appointment of the first full-time public health officer in Mecklenburg County.
The recent Hepatitis A scare (“Some think County should Rethink Worker Vaccinations” June 29) justifies reflecting on this rich history. The positive lesson is that government public health functions are much more transparent and respectful of individual desires now than in the past.
Public health authorities used to be very muscular. Local public health boards promulgated quarantines and sanitary regulations much more quickly than the County Commission can act nowadays. Sometimes “muscular” had literal not just metaphorical meaning. In February 1900, two physicians, six police officers and some legal functionary went to a local mill to vaccinate employees against smallpox. Workers in the weaving room staged a largely successful mass breakout; some escaped by jumping out windows.
Clearly, public distrust of vaccination was widespread long before belief in the bogus link between autism and childhood vaccination arose. During the day, several people were arrested until they consented to be vaccinated. The public health and law officers had more success in the evening when they raided the bars along College Street and vaccinated the patrons.