Alfred Russel Wallace gave an account of smallpox and vaccination in 1895 in which he characterized the historical policies into encouragement, compulsion, and penal compulsion. Wallace's views have commonly been considered anti-vaccinationist, however this attribution may not be wholly accurate. Wallace made an argument similar to the one which toward the end of the 20th century been made for polio vaccination, first in the US and later in the UK, that as the prevalence of the disease changes, the approach to immunization must change.
In general, the disadvantages of variolation are the same as those of vaccination, but added to them is the generally agreement that variolation was always more dangerous than vaccination.
Vaccination was first made compulsory in 1853, and the provisions were made more stringent in 1867, 1871, and 1874.
The poor-law guardians were to control vaccination districts formed out of the parishes, and pay vaccinators from 1s to 3s per child vaccinated in the district (the amount paid varied with how far they had to travel).
Within seven days of the birth of a child being registered, the registrar was to deliver a notice of vaccination; if the child was not presented to be vaccinated within three months, or brought for inspection afterwards, the parents or guardians were liable to a summary conviction and fine of 20s.
The Act also provided that any person who produced or attempted to inoculate another with smallpox could be imprisoned for a month.
In 1871 another Act was passed appointing a Vaccination Officer, also authorising a defendant to appear in a court of law by any member of his family, or any other person authorised by him.
The Vaccination Act of 1898 purported to give liberty of non-vaccination, but this liberty was not really obtained. Parents applying for a certificate of exemption had to satisfy two magistrates, or one stipendiary, of their conscientious objections. Some stipendiaries, and many of the magistrates, refused to be satisfied, and imposed delays. Unless the exemption was obtained before the child was four months old, it was too late. The consequence was that in the year 1906, only about 40,000 exemptions were obtained in England and Wales. In the year 1907 the Government recognised that the magistrates had practically declined to carry out the law of 1898, and, consequently, a new law—the Vaccination Act, 1907—was passed. Under this law the parent escaped penalties for the non-vaccination of his child if within four months from the birth he made a statutory declaration that he confidently believed that vaccination would be prejudicial to the health of the child, and within seven days thereafter delivered, or sent by post, the declaration to the Vaccination Officer of the district.
It is the duty of all Magistrates to sign a Statutory Declaration when asked to do so, and the Magistrate's Clerk is entitled to a fee of 1s. Most of the liberal-minded magistrates will witness the Declaration at their own house, or any other convenient place. Some, however, refuse to do that except in the law court. A Statutory Declaration may also be witnessed by a Commissioner for Oaths, and some other officials.