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Smallpox death rate in Germany and Austria 1844-1899

In human history, smallpox has been one of the most widespread and lethal diseases to occur in nature, taking hundreds of millions of lives across the globe before it was successfully eradicated in the twentieth century. Although an effective smallpox vaccine was first developed in England in 1796, it would take over a century for the vaccine to be understood and implemented across Europe. While the vaccine was discovered in England, it was in Germany where the practice of vaccination first took off on a large scale, and where the importance of revaccination was discovered.

Bavaria leads in vaccination development

The state of Bavaria was the first in Germany (and second in the world, after Iceland) to introduce mandatory smallpox vaccination for newborns. This was reflected in them generally having the lowest number of smallpox deaths in Europe in the mid-1800s. Before the vaccination era, infants and children were generally the most at risk of dying from smallpox infection; vaccination caused these death rates to plummet, however it then presented microbiologists with a new challenge. As the century progressed, the smallpox death rate among young adults increased and it became apparent that vaccination in infancy would not last until adulthood, thus the need for revaccination emerged, with Bavaria again at the forefront.

The German Vaccination Law of 1874

It was during the great pandemic of the 1870s The German Vaccination Law of April 8, 1874 was passed; where all children under the age of two, and any unvaccinated child under the age of twelve had to be vaccinated by law. From this year we can see a sharp decrease in the death rate due to smallpox, where it remains consistently low for the remainder of the century. The introduction of this law brought the smallpox death rates in all German states in line with those of Bavaria, with the death rate in Württemberg dropping even below that of Bavaria. In contrast to Germany, mandatory smallpox vaccination was never introduced in Austria, and we can see that the death rate due to smallpox in Austria remained much higher than in Germany for the remainder of the century.

Number of smallpox deaths in Germany and Austria from 1844 to 1899

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Release date

March 2020


Austria, Germany (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg)

Survey time period

1844 to 1899

Supplementary notes

*Bavarian figures are for the second half of the given year, and the first half of the following year. For example, the 1844 figure is for the period between July 1844 and June 1845.

**Vaccination became mandatory in Germany from 1874.

Release date is the date of extraction.

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Statistics on "Smallpox"

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