Meet Measles, Diphtheria and Smallpox!

April 30/2015

Torontonians will have the opportunity to meet people (actually, actors pretending they are sick) with measles, diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases at the Quarantine Tent, a novel vaccine education event at the Science Rendezvous festival.

The Quarantine Tent allows visitors to meet people transported from the past with vaccine-preventable diseases. The actors talk to passersby about how so-called childhood diseases affected families and communities in an era before vaccines. The event is hosted by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH), Canada’s largest public health school, and most of the ‘actors’ are DLSPH students.

“Now-a-days, many people don’t have the historical context of knowing how dangerous diseases like measles can be,” said Natasha Crowcroft, Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Chief of Applied Immunization Research at Public Health Ontario.

“They’ve forgotten what our grandparents and great grandparents knew all too well – that these diseases can maim and kill us, and that vaccines really are a miracle in preventing this toll,” continued Crowcroft, also Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at U of T Medicine.

The Quarantine Tent will be set up at this year’s Science Rendezvous — Canada’s biggest, nation-wide science festival — at the University of Toronto on St. George Street on Saturday May 9. All events are free.

One story people will hear at the Quarantine Tent is that of Smallpox, a 20-year-old man from 1921. The blisters on his face and hands look terrible.  He contracted the disease in Ottawa when he was visiting family during an outbreak. He lost several family members there to smallpox, including his father and younger brother, as well as an aunt. Ottawa alone had 1,352 cases, and 30 to 50 percent of non-vaccinated people who got smallpox died.

A phenomenal success story of vaccination, smallpox was eliminated worldwide in 1979. At the event, people can also meet Diphtheria, 1918 Flu, Polio and others all from different years.

The Quarantine Tent was founded by Pippa Wysong, a Toronto-based medical, science and children’s writer. She felt that young parents don’t have the context of what society was like without vaccination and figured why not offer an event where people can get a glimpse of what life was like in the past?

“The Tent illustrates society looks like without vaccines. If you can hear personal stories from people whose families and towns were ravaged by the diseases it helps put the impact of vaccines into context,” she said. Her grandfather, Dr. Gordon Bates, was a physician and national public health activist from WW-I through to the 1970s, saw the devastation these diseases caused and advocated for public vaccination programs. Wysong has also taken the Quarantine Tent to other street festivals.

So, vaccines, why bother? Take a trip to the past to find out.

This event is free and no RSVP required. Visit the website for more info: