Vaccines, Pesticides, and Narratives of Exposure and Evidence

Can Bull Med Hist. Fall 2017;34(2):297-326. doi: 10.3138/cbmh.190-21122016. Epub 2017 Jul 14.


This essay considers the cultural work performed by two public health narratives - the DDT narrative and the vaccine narrative - as they appeared in popular and professional discourse concerning two recent media events: controversy over an antivaccination film, and the emergence of a Zika global public health emergency. Like all narratives in the history of medicine, the stories historians and others tell about DDT and about vaccines organize a shared past to explain the present. They also point to a hoped-for future. The DDT and vaccine narratives share several themes: public health, expertise, evidence, exposure, and power. Their inclusions and exclusions, however, convey distinct messages about these themes, particularly regarding the right conduct of health citizens in the pursuit of public health. These narratives are analyzed to compare their agendas, and to propose a case study of how historical work can shed light on contemporary public health norms, practice, and challenges.

Keywords: DDT; Zika outbreaks; exposition; exposure; global health; health journalism; journalisme sur la santé; public health and citizenship; public health narratives and historiography; récit et historiographie sur la santé publique; santé mondiale; santé publique et citoyenneté; vaccines and antivaccination movements; vaccins et mouvements anti-vaccination; éclosions de Zika.

MeSH terms

  • DDT*
  • Humans
  • Narration*
  • Pesticides*
  • Public Health*
  • Vaccines
  • Zika Virus
  • Zika Virus Infection*


  • Pesticides
  • Vaccines
  • DDT