‘Mormon Land’: Latter-day Saints and their love-hate history with vaccines

(Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File) This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

In the not-too-distant future, the United States and other nations will have a vaccination available, thankfully, for COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.5 million people and altered millions of more lives.

But besides the issue of who will get the vaccination first looms another question: Who will be willing to get it?

Debates about the value and efficacy of vaccines — as well as the socioeconomics of those who will get them and those who won’t — have raged throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Such a debate took place in the early 1900s in Utah over the smallpox vaccine, dividing prominent community members, leaders and Latter-day Saints, including top church authorities and the editor of the church-owned Deseret News.

On this week’s podcast, Ben Cater — who teaches history at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and has written about the religious politics at play in public health during the Progressive Era in Utah — revisits that period and how it may parallel our current times.

As Cater noted, in a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Listen here: