When yellow fever struck Philadelphia in 1793, a ninth of the city’s population died. The entire federal government picked up and fled. A hundred years later, the pendulum had swung sharply in the opposite direction. Health workers took extreme measures to contain disease — imprisoning the sick, burning entire districts, and vaccinating resistant citizens at gunpoint. We wondered: why the change?
In this episode, we’ll trace the shifting role of the state in preventing and coping with epidemics. Where do we draw the line between promoting the public good and protecting individual rights? How did people understand the causes and experience of disease in their own time? And why did so many people resist public health measures, so fiercely, for so long?
Please help us shape this show! Were you transfixed by “Contagion”? Remember avoiding the swimming pool during polio scares? Have an opinion on current vaccination requirements? Share your stories, questions, and ideas below.