OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — UNO professor Dr. Pedro Cantisano is studying the smallpox epidemic in Brazil in the early 1900s when the country was hit by a smallpox epidemic.
When a vaccine arrived, Brazilian leaders passed legislation requiring people to get vaccinated. It backfired, causing a revolt from thousands of people that turned deadly.
"There was a fake news campaign against the vaccine at the time because there was a political group in 1904 that wanted to remove the President in 1904. They used that, it was essentially a conspiracy to remove the President, so they used the position of the vaccine to create chaos," Cantisano said.
What came after that? Authorities learned from that episode, expanding the Public Health system in the country. They also enlisted a lot of help to change people's minds.
"Artists, TV, celebrities, all kind of engaged in getting people to go get vaccinated against smallpox, and that campaign, that national campaign in the 1960s and into the 1970s is what eradicates smallpox," Cantisano said.
Cantisano says there are many parallels we can draw between the reaction to the smallpox vaccine in Brazil to what we see today with the COVID-19 vaccine.
"There is a longer process to go through, which is a process of learning and capturing people's minds and hearts with regard to their responsibility to get vaccinated, but also with regard to how good this is and how effective this has been," Cantisano said.
Cantisano says that by looking at Brazil's failures and successes, The United States can find ways to adapt.
"I would say it's an example of how to learn with failure, an example of how to observe the effects of public policy on society and kind of adapt public policy to the reactions that people have to it," Cantisano said.
Dr. Cantisano is writing a book about public health law and urban reform in Brazil and also has an article under review about the 1904 revolt.