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No to vaccines, yes to woolly long-johns

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George Bernard ShawThe refusal of many parents to accept vaccination for their children is an interesting sociological phenomenon as well as a source of great concern to the health services.

The furore over measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has still not gone away, and we are now seeing the results in the form of an increase in the incidence of measles.

Why do people fly in the face of scientific opinion in this area, yet are happy to accept other forms of treatment?

Opposition to vaccination has a long history. One of its most vociferous opponents was the playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950).

Shaw seems to have been generally anti-science, as can be seen from one of his more famous quotes: “Science never solves a problem without creating 10 more.” However, he was a firm believer in some of the less scientific forms of medical treatment.

One of these treatments was the Dr Jaeger Sanitary Woollen System, developed in the late 19th century by Gustav Jaeger, a German physician and zoologist. Like Shaw, Jaeger seemed to have been something of a hypochondriac.

In 1880, Jaeger published a book in which he promoted the idea of wearing only wool next to the skin. He considered clothing made from plant fibres such as cotton and linen to be unhealthy.

Jaeger wanted everyone to use wool fibres throughout the house, right down to the bed sheets, on the wholly unscientific grounds that pure animal fibres would “prevent the retention of noxious exhalations of the body”. This philosophy gave birth to a craze for the wearing of wool-jersey long-johns, and George Bernard Shaw was among those who took up the craze enthusiastically.

In 1884 Dr Jaeger licensed an Englishman, Lewis Tomalin, to open a British firm called Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co Ltd. Early advertisements for the Sanitary Woollen System claimed that the wool fibres had been “chemically and microscopically tested” in the company’s laboratories for “purity, non-shrinking and strength”. Many polar explorers, including Ernest Shackleton, wore Jaeger long-johns on their expeditions.

The Sanitary Woollen System Co Ltd is now known simply as Jaeger, the fashion house, which celebrated 125 years in business earlier this year (2009).

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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