An Historian

historical stuff by Gareth Millward


Vaccinating Britain

Vaccinating Britain

Vaccinating Britain

In Autumn 2015, a proposal to give all British children a vaccine against meningitis broke the record for being the most-signed online Parliamentary petition. In 2014-15, 92.3 per cent of children in England got their first dose of MMR; 94.2 per cent completed their course of the five-in-one vaccine. The majority of parents see vaccination as effective and present their children for it.

But, of course, vaccines are not without controversy. The spectre of the MMR crisis still looms large over national and global public health policy. Public health authorities continue to push for immunisation rates to rise yet further. Parents are asked to vaccinate their children against an increasing range of diseases, and not all are completely convinced. In some middle-class communities, the wisdom of vaccination is questioned. In poorer ones, people lack access to healthcare and can be invisible to local authorities.

This project formed part of the Wellcome Investigator Award Placing the Public in Public Health: Public Health in Britain, 1948-2010 lead by Alex Mold at the Centre for History in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I investigated British vaccination policy since the 1940s. My role was to research the position of “the public” – defined in various ways – within these policies. How did the government view the public’s ability to make informed decisions? How did it understand the relative risks to these populations from vaccination and infectious disease? How did publics comply with or resist central government policy, and how did this shape public health administration?


Forthcoming: Millward, Gareth. Vaccinating Britain: Mass Vaccination and the Public since the Second World War [working title] (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018).

Forthcoming: Millward, Gareth. “A history with web archives, not a history of web archives: A history of the British measles-mumps-rubella vaccine crisis, 1998-2004” in Niels Brügger, Ian Milligan and Megan Ankerson (eds), SAGE Handbook of Web History (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2018).

Millward, Gareth. “‘A matter of commonsense’: the Coventry poliomyelitis epidemic 1957 and the British public“, Contemporary British History 31(3) (2017), 384-406 (first published online: 31 October 2016). doi:10.1080/13619462.2016.1247701.

Millward, Gareth. “A Disability Act? The Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979 and the British Government’s Response to the Pertussis Vaccine Scare“, Social History of Medicine 30(2) (2017), 429-447 (first published online: 4 August 2016). doi:10.1093/shm/hkv140.