The pertussis vaccine controversy in Great Britain, 1974-1986

Vaccine. 2003 Sep 8;21(25-26):4003-10. doi: 10.1016/s0264-410x(03)00302-5.


This historical essay analyzes the role played by Great Britain in the pertussis vaccine controversy of the 1970s and 1980s. Public backlash against this vaccine not only took place earlier in Britain than the United States, but also was so widespread that a series of whooping cough epidemics soon followed. As with the more recent dispute involving measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, the United Kingdom played a primary role in defining, promoting, and ultimately exporting this controversy. This essay seeks to explain this phenomenon by situating it in Britain's long history of suspicion regarding vaccines evident among both the public and the medical profession, a theme dating back to the compulsory vaccination laws of the 19th century. It argues that anti-vaccinationism, far from being simply a new development related to the public's lack of awareness of childhood vaccine-preventable illness, actually represents a revival of a much older movement.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunization Programs / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Pertussis Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • Pertussis Vaccine / history*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control


  • Pertussis Vaccine