Doctors and Diagnosis

The Difference between Vaccination and Inoculation

It seems prudent here to include a short discussion on the difference between vaccination and inoculation. Byron Plant offers a succinct explanation:

Vaccination is the more commonly used term which actually consists of a "safe" injection of a sample taken from a cow suffering from cowpox... Inoculation, a practice probably as old as the disease itself, is the injection of the variola virus taken from a pustule or scab of a smallpox sufferer into the superficial layers of the skin, commonly on the upper arm of the subject. Often inoculation was done "arm to arm" or less effectively "scab to arm"...4

As mentioned earlier, inoculation would have been the most common immunization technology during the 1862-63 epidemic. However, there might have been some vaccine available, but if so, it was probably reserved for the colonists and not used on Native people. It is difficult to tell exactly from the sources because the terms vaccination and inoculation were often confused. Most of the time, vaccination was the term used; inoculation was the method used.5

It is possible that the high mortality rate was at least partly due to the ineffectiveness of the vaccine. According to Byron Plant, the success of inoculation depends on the skill of the administrator. Often, for various reasons the vaccine "did not take" and had to be repeated or the patient fell ill with the disease. As well, since inoculation produced symptoms of the disease, the person inoculated could be infectious and sometimes even develop a full-blown case of smallpox.6

Doctors and Diagnosis