Smallpox broke out in southeast Arizona almost exactly 100 years ago last week (co-incident with the Statehood activities). The first cases were in Tucson and Douglas with a few dozen cases and several deaths… and there were a few additional cases in Nogales and Globe. Of course, all the cases were among folks that hadn’t been vaccinated. The public health interventions of the time were much like what we would do today- case contact follow up with targeted vaccinations of folks that had contact with cases.
For example, Dr. Chenoweth (Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Health) implemented an aggressive targeted vaccination effort following the Nogales case. From the 1912 records, we know that Dr. Chenoweth immediately began a “house-to-house vaccination campaign, vaccinating every person within a radius of six or seven miles of the case under quarantine, except one person who secreted herself and escaped vaccination, but developed smallpox instead.” These two cases were the only ones reported from Santa Cruz County.
As the outbreak progressed in the following months, the State Board of Health weighed in on the public health response that had been undertaken in the various counties. The 1912 State Board of Health minutes stated that: “In our opinion this (contact and ring vaccination campaigns) is not sufficient, as there is no one to keep check on the patient or guardian to see that vaccination is done. Our public health law should be amended to read: In addition to the above stated section, no principal, teacher or superintendent shall permit any person to attend school, unless they have been vaccinated. A large per cent of the children of Arizona have not been vaccinated and will not as long as they are allowed to attend school without first having been vaccinated.
So, the February 1912 Smallpox outbreak in SE AZ was that spark that triggered the debate about whether and how to require vaccination as a prerequisite for attending school. You can check out our pre-school and school resource page to find out more about today’s school vaccination requirements.