This image attributes a quote to Glen Dettman:

enter image description here

"It is pathetic and ludicrous to say we ever vanquished smallpox with vaccines, when only 10% of the population was vaccinated."
- Glen Dettman A.M.M., BA, Ph.D, F.A.P.M.

Whether Dettman actually said this or not, was smallpox eradicated with only 10% of the population vaccinated?

  • 5
    Can someone put the text of the image into the description? My firewall isn't letting me see the image. Since there have been variants of a smallpox vaccine since 1798 though, I would say that much more than 10% of the population received a vaccine. That said, so what? The critical number to consider is what percentage is required to stop transmisstivity (although I do suspect it is greater than 10%). – JasonR Apr 18 '18 at 15:52
  • 7
    Check out this paper: ourworldindata.org/vaccination There are interactive maps for DDTaP and measles. These show up to 80% and more. And the section titled "People do not know how well we actually do in global vaccination" seems relevant – JasonR Apr 18 '18 at 15:54
  • 17
    @JasonR from what I've seen online, he seems to be a Vitamin C proponent, which is usually a code word for antivaxxer. – DenisS Apr 18 '18 at 16:02
  • 17
    I have serious doubts about whether the man actually made the claim. When I google the quote, I get nothing but anti-vax websites. None of them actually point to the source of the quote. – BobTheAverage Apr 18 '18 at 17:58
  • 6
    The Wikipedia article that is the basis for this question quotes Glen Dettman as saying that "vaccines are pseudo-science". Also, the talk page for the article says that none of the supposed credentials or biographical details in the article were verifiable. The only references are to a web page selling nutritional supplements. This question needs some more work to be answerable. – Ellie Kesselman Apr 19 '18 at 1:50

The statement is patently false.

A National Institute of Health Paper talks about this in detail.

The global eradication effort, led by D.A. Henderson, originally used a strategy of mass vaccination campaigns to achieve 80% vaccine coverage in each country. This goal proved difficult to attain in many underdeveloped countries, but a serendipitous discovery led to a more effective strategy.

And in areas where the 80% threshold was not achieved, another method was used:

This strategy, known as surveillance-containment or ring vaccination, led to the disappearance of smallpox in eastern Nigeria even though the population coverage was less than 50%. The relative benefits of ring vaccination versus mass vaccination have been debated, but epidemiological evidence from Africa and Asia suggests that both lower population density and higher population vaccine coverage contributed to the elimination of transmission in many regions.

While not specifically about the Smallpox vaccine, this paper shows that very few people even realize how effective vaccination programs are at reaching the world. In particular, only 17% of US adults know that we have an 85% coverage for measles throughout the world.

The Gapminder Ignorance Project studied how well-informed people are about global development. The visualization below shows what people perceive to be the status in global vaccination efforts.

Americans greatly underestimate the successful expansion of vaccination around the world. Only 17% of the American public know that around 80% of the world's children are vaccinated against measles.

And the Herd Immunity table shows that an 80-86% immunization rate is required for smallpox. SO to claim we only vaccinated 10% and somehow eradicated the disease is downright silly.

This paper even states that many of the west African countries (typically assumed to have lower rates) reached the 80% threshold by 1969 through examinations (PDF, see Figure 4).

  • 41
    I know this site doesn't allow Wikipedia as a source, but the article on smallpox vaccine is a very good summary how eradication was accomplished. Spoiler, so many people were vaccinated and it took a highly organized and conscious effort to get it done. It's truly a marvel of the modern age. – fredsbend Apr 18 '18 at 19:00
  • 3
    I think you are implicitly making a stronger claim than is supported by your argument: there is no reason to believe that 10% couldn't have a disproportionately large effect, and so no reason to necessarily believe that a perfectly-allocated 10% is incapable of eradicating smallpox. (Again, GREAT description of why that wasn't what actually happened though) – fectin Apr 18 '18 at 23:58
  • 16
    @fredsbend When posting a link, please remove the mobile marker (i.e. m. for Wikipedia). It took me a while realise why the page looked weird on my computer! – CJ Dennis Apr 19 '18 at 7:42
  • 1
    @Matt, I appreciate the comment. And the answer does point to a method used in areas where the 80-86% rate could not be achieved. However, even in those areas, the rates were greater than 50% (and in the 1960s, even the Aboriginal population of Australia was reached at the 80% rate). – JasonR Apr 19 '18 at 15:01
  • 6
    @CJDennis I'll try to remember that next time, but really the blame is on Wikipedia for not redirecting you. – fredsbend Apr 19 '18 at 17:13

tl;dr- This answer is primarily an attempt to establish the context of the quote to determine its meaning. No conclusive sources were found, however:

  1. It seems dubious that Glen Dettman actually made that statement.

  2. If Dettman did make that statement, it seems likely to have been in the context of the Australian population pre-1938, not the global population pre-1980.

  3. In that probable context, this claim seems fairly plausible.

  4. The quote is misleading-at-best in the apparent context one might infer from just looking at the picture.

UPDATE: Found a source (printed-pages 361-362) that claims that most Australians weren't vaccinated against smallpox in the early 1900's. Coupled with the earlier point that the last smallpox case was in 1938, it seems that the alleged claim is probably about right in the context of the Australian population.

1. Tracing back the source of the quote

As far back as I've been able to trace the quote, it comes from an anti-vivesection (animal dissection for medical research) testimonial compilation (1989):

From the article "The Basic Anatomical Element: Bechamp's Microzyma" by Dr. Glen Dettman, AMM, BA, PhD and Archie Kalokerinos, MD, in Health Consciousness, Oviedo, Fl., Oct 1986: "It is pathetic and ludicrous to say we vanquished smallpox with vaccines when only 10% of the population were ever vaccinated."

-"1000 DOCTORS (AND MANY MORE) AGAINST VIVISECTION" (1989) [alternative link: PDF]

The trail seems to end here for now. Google isn't yielding any results for the alleged article,

  • The Basic Anatomical Element: Bechamp's Microzyma

, except in the context of the book claiming that the article exists.

Additionally, there seem to be inconsistencies with that alleged article when comparing it to Wikipedia's list of Dettman's publications:

  1. The alleged article is from 1986, though Dettman's publication list stops in 1983.

  2. The title of that article doesn't seem consistent with Dettman's prior publication titles.

  3. The journal doesn't seem consistent with Dettman's prior publication venues.

  4. This source lists Dettman's titles with both "BA" and "PhD"; it's incredibly strange to list a Bachelor's degree along with a PhD.

    • This may be done in some places.

None of these concerns are conclusive, though the quote's attribution does seem dubious.

2. If real, the context may've been the Australian population

Glen Dettman lived in the pre-globalization days in Australia. His childhood, education, and professional career were all in Australia, and his publications seem to largely be in journals that explicitly have "Australia" in their titles.

And as the earliest-found source of the quote claims, Dettman's work was largely with Australians and the problems specific to Australia:

In Australia, Dr. Archie Kalokerinos, M.D., and Dr. Glen Dettman, Ph.D., discovered that some 500 out of every 1,000 Aboriginal children were dying in the Northern territories. The cause was a type of toxic shock reaction, complicated by vitamin C deficiency, brought on by immunization. In a two­ year period without vaccination and with improved nutrition not one child died.

-"1000 DOCTORS (AND MANY MORE) AGAINST VIVISECTION" (1989) [alternative link: PDF]

Given this background, along with the plausibility of the quote in this context (discussed in the next section), it seems likely that, if real, the quote may've been in the context of Australia.

3. In the probable context, this claim seems plausible

According to an Australian government health website, smallpox hasn't appeared in Australia since 1938:

Smallpox last appeared in Australia in 1938, and the last case naturally occurring cases in the world was reported from Somalia in 1977. The virus is now only held officially in two secure laboratories. Any reappearance of smallpox is likely to be the result of bioterrorism, but the risk of this is extremely low.

"Smallpox (Variola)", NSW Government Health [PDF]

And though Australia hadn't seen a case since 1938, the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that smallpox was still raging worldwide in 1950, not being seriously pushed back by vaccination efforts until about 1967 before being declared eliminated in 1980:

In the early 1950s – 150 years after the introduction of vaccination – an estimated 50 million cases of smallpox occurred in the world each year, a figure which fell to around 10–15 million by 1967 because of vaccination.

In 1967, when WHO launched an intensified plan to eradicate smallpox, the "ancient scourge" threatened 60% of the world's population, killed every fourth victim, scarred or blinded most survivors, and eluded any form of treatment.

–"Smallpox", World Health Organization (WHO), via archive.org

Given this timeline, it seems plausible that serious vaccination efforts didn't occur in Australia before smallpox was eliminated there by 1938. Therefore, it seems plausible that the explanation for smallpox being eliminated in the Australian population may not involve most of the population getting vaccinated.

Though to stress it, this is merely plausible given the limited information found so far. This answer does not claim that there was no widespread (>10%) vaccination effort in Australia pre-1938, only that evidence for such an effort hasn't popped up yet.

UPDATE: Found a source that discusses the prevalence of smallpox vaccination in Australia around that time. As speculated, it appears that vaccination wasn't applied to most of the population.

The full quote since it contains a lot of relevant information (shortened version below):


Apart from some widespread outbreaks among the aborigines of Australia during the 19th century, all of which died out after a few years (see Chapter 5), smallpox never became established as an endemic disease in Australia, New Zealand or the islands of the Pacific Ocean. From the beginning of the 20th century they were well protected from importations by their geographical remoteness and the effective quarantine measures imposed on visiting shipping. This situation led to a disregard for infantile vaccination, which by the early years of the 20th century had reached a very low level in Australia and New Zealand. Nevertheless, a long-standing requirement for valid vaccination certificates for all travellers, combined with vigilant seaport and, later, airport medical inspections and quarantine, kept both Australia and New Zealand free of serious outbreaks of smallpox, except for separate importations of alastrim into each country in 1913.


The Australian epidemic of alastrim was initiated in April 1913 by a ship’s steward who was infected in Vancouver, Canada, and slipped through the medical inspection in Sydney (Cumpston & McCallum, 1925). The outbreak which followed lasted until December 1917 and produced 2400 cases in various parts of Sydney and in country towns in New South Wales, but only a minor extension into one other state-Queensland. It was of very low virulence, with only 2 deaths attributable to smallpox, and of low infectivity, spreading slowly in a largely unvaccinated population of 1.8 million. Control was achieved by vaccination and the segregation of cases and contacts. Subsequently a few very small outbreaks of both variola major and variola minor occurred, but the effectiveness of the quaran- tine arrangements was indicated by the fact that, between 1909 and 1923, 40 ships were quarantined for smallpox or suspected smallpox.

"Chapter 8: The Incidence and Control of Smallpox between 1900 and 1958" (printed-pages 361-362)

The relevant part appears to be:

The outbreak which followed lasted until December 1917 and produced 2400 cases in various parts of Sydney and in country towns in New South Wales, but only a minor extension into one other state-Queensland. It was of very low virulence, with only 2 deaths attributable to smallpox, and of low infectivity, spreading slowly in a largely unvaccinated population of 1.8 million.

"Chapter 8: The Incidence and Control of Smallpox between 1900 and 1958" (printed-page 361)

This source makes it sound like vaccination was deployed strategically to high-risk demographics, e.g. travelers and those near outbreaks, though it seems to claim that most of the population wasn't vaccinated.


The evidence so far reflects:

  1. The quote's attribution seems dubious.

  2. If the quote is real, it may've been in the context of the Australian population and how they wiped out smallpox by 1938, not in the context of the global population in which major vaccination efforts were pushed after 1950.

  3. The limited information found so far leaves the claim that smallpox was eliminated in Australia without more than 10% of the population getting vaccination plausible.

Finally, it should be understood that while the original claim, if real, may've been defensible, a misrepresentation of it taken outside of a context in which it may've been defensible doesn't necessarily enjoy the same validity. Of course the smallpox vaccination attempts were far more crucial to wiping out smallpox worldwide.


From what I've read of Dettman's work, it sounds like he was an actual scientist who did good medical research that helped folks out. If some of these sources are to be believed, it sounds like Dettman did find that vaccines were causing harm to some Australians, which seems like a plausible finding. It remains understood that even modern versions of the smallpox vaccine can have rare-but-serious side effects.

It should be noted that Dettman's work was in the context of the mid-1900's at which time medical understanding and technology wasn't what it is today. His findings and statements, where real, should be understood as historical; they don't necessarily reflect on modern medical realities nor on modern political concerns. Those should be put aside entirely.

All of that said, while Dettman's possible claim may've been defensible in a seemingly likely context, of course such a claim would be misrepresented if taken outside of that context. So, internet memes and modern political arguments based on such misrepresentations should be viewed skeptically.

  • 5
    "...it's incredibly strange to list a Bachelor's degree along with a PhD" - this is only the case in the US. In most countries you list all your degrees. – TheMathemagician Apr 19 '18 at 10:08
  • 13
    @TheMathemagician I'm not sure about most countries, but in the european countries I know you don't list subsumed titles (no BA or MA if you have a PhD, etc.) The exception may be when the BA and PhD are in different fields but even then many people view it as silly at best. – DRF Apr 19 '18 at 11:10
  • 10
    Even if the quote is real, it can be read to mean that because only 10% of the population had been vaccinated, it's ludicrous to believe that small pox had been eradicated at all -- with or without vaccines. There's simply not enough context to determine if that's the case or not. – Clearer Apr 19 '18 at 11:15
  • 2
    "Health Consciousness" does appear to be a journal that did/does exist; here is its WorldCat entry. Note that the WorldCat entry appears to say that the journal started in 1996; but I would not take that date as definitive, since library catalogs are not always 100% correct. – Michael Seifert Apr 19 '18 at 13:09
  • 1
    Nice research about the quote. To speculate a little, I'd think that if the quote is genuine, it may even only apply to the Aboriginal tribe Dettman had been working with, and not to the whole of Australia. – Evargalo Apr 20 '18 at 7:31

There doesn't seem to be data on this. The paper:


The global eradication effort, led by D.A. Henderson, originally used a strategy of mass vaccination campaigns to achieve 80% vaccine coverage in each country. This goal proved difficult to attain in many underdeveloped countries, but a serendipitous discovery led to a more effective strategy

, seems to avoid directly giving a calculated population weighted average of global vaccination rates.

I did find some data from Gapminder, which shows varying vaccination rates. Remember that smallpox dissapeared around 1980 and vaccination rates have rapidly increased since then. Note that Gapminder only has data for DPT.


enter image description here

This does not fully answer the question, but it is all that is available from the WHO data that Gapminder uses.

  • 13
    You've used the exact same links as JasonR's answer. I fail to see how this adds any new information. – Rob Watts Apr 18 '18 at 19:47
  • 3
    Have I understood your point correctly? You are saying the text in @JasonR's answer doesn't actually demonstrate that there was a higher-than-10% vaccination rate, so you are arguing that there is no evidence. If so, I think you need a reference to show that there is no other evidence available. – Oddthinking Apr 19 '18 at 2:32
  • 13
    Why are you showing the DTP vaccination rates in 2014? You should at least show the DTP rates from 1980, available in the same infographic. But of course, the question is about smallpox, not tetanus. – Oddthinking Apr 19 '18 at 2:36

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Community Apr 20 '18 at 3:09

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .