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Coping with Danger in the Air: BCG Vaccination in the Republic of China and International Projects of Postwar Tuberculosis Control, 1930-1949

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Peer-reviewed

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Article

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Authors

Brazelton, Mary Augusta 

Abstract

In the early twentieth century, while smallpox, cholera, and other diseases caused temporary but urgent health crises in China, pulmonary tuberculosis remained a leading cause of mortality. This article investigates efforts to prevent and control tuberculosis in Republican China, especially efforts to implement the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine as a preventive measure against the disease. Published materials show that efforts to introduce this vaccine in the early 1930s met with skepticism on the part of Chinese physicians and inaction on the part of the state. Although the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War presented an obstacle to BCG research and development, it also provided new opportunities for members of China’s biomedical research community—many of whom had moved with the Nationalist government to the nation's western hinterlands—to learn about new methods of producing vaccines and to study methods of epidemic control. In the case of BCG, these processes only bore fruit in the years after the war ended, when a review of medical literature suggests that in the tumultuous years of civil war between 1945 and 1949, health administrators began to plan for implementation of the BCG vaccine on a large scale for the first time. But questions of the ability of this biochemical method to prevent an airborne disease, and the role of environmental and social factors in causing tuberculosis, lingered throughout this period.

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Keywords

tuberculosis, Bacille Calmette-Guerin, BCG, Republic of China, public health, bacteriology, vaccine, immunization, epidemic

Journal Title

CROSS-CURRENTS-EAST ASIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE REVIEW

Conference Name

Journal ISSN

2158-9666
2158-9674

Volume Title

30

Publisher

University of Hawaii Press

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