In 1889, the British government appointed a Royal Commission to evaluate mandatory vaccination policies. While Wallace turned down an offer to sit on the Commission himself, he appeared as the anti-vaccinationists' star witness. The fifteen members of the Commission included some of the prominent British physicians of that time (most of whom were pro-vaccinationists which outraged Tebb and the others). The Commissions members held twenty-one meetings in 1890 and examined ten witnesses (mostly anti-vaccinationists). Wallace appeared four times before the commission and presented all of his graphs and statistics. While the commission members were initially impressed by Wallace's testimony, that changed after they had a chance to evaluate his findings more carefully.
Wallace's statistics seemed impressive but the committee members found numerous errors that seemed unworthy of someone of Wallace's reputation. Not only did Wallace and his fellow anti-vaccinationists ignore statistics that failed to support their view but many of the statistical tables were highly selective (doubly embarassing since Wallace had accused the pro-vaccinationists of doing the same thing).Wallace was caught off-guard by the findings and was forced to admit that many of the statistics that he had presented were worthless. While he continued to argue that sanitation was more important than vaccination, Wallace's credibility had been severely undermined by the time he concluded his testimony. Anti-vaccination activists defended Wallace throughout the entire process and accused the commission of being biased in favour of the pro-vaccinationists. One source commented that, "Dr Wallace stood an examination which proved, if nothing else, that anyone who gives anti-vaccination evidence before this commission must be prepared to keep his temper through insults which most would resent and which few would indulge".
Although the Commission issued a preliminary report in December 1890, the final report wouldn't come out until six years later. After the final report, Wallace published his most scathing pamphlet yet on the Commission's findings. Titled Vaccination a Delusion; Its Penal Enforcement a Crime: Proved by the Official Evidence in the Reports of the Royal Commission, Wallace accused the Commission's final report as being "not only weak, misleading, inadequate but is also palpably one-sided". His critics reacted as expected and accused Wallace of simply restating all of his old arguments without providing any new evidence. Still, his crusade had some impact and the Commission's report led to changes in compulsory vaccination (penalties for noncompliance were reduced) and adoption of less risky methods of inoculation.
Wallace was hardly satisfied. He continued to write anti-vaccinationist pamphlets until his death in 1913. As one of the most well-known scientists of his generation, he lent an air of respect to the anti-vaccination crusade that it never had since. In one of the last pamphlets that he wrote for the Anti-Vaccination League in 1904, he said that "the figures go increasing and decreasing so suddenly and irregularly that by taking a few years at one period, and a few at another, you can show an increase or decrease according to what you wish to prove". Most of the arguments that he raised against vaccination are still being used by anti-vaccinationists today. Even in the 20th century, anti-vaccination societies continued to proliferate and attracted numerous "star" supporters including Wallace and George Bernard Shaw (who wrote that vaccination was "a particularly filthy piece of witchcraft"), as well as health faddists, anti-vivisectionists, trade unionists, etc.
While compulsory vaccination was eventually phased out in Britain with the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948, it still remains a thorny issue in many other countries today. The aggressive spread of vaccination campaigns across the world (in combination of containment of known cases) led to a drastic reduction in many communicable diseases for which vaccines are available. Although 50 million cases of smallpox were recorded world-wide in the 1950s, the last naturally occurring case of smallpox occurred in Somalia in 1977 and the World Health Organization declared the disease eradicated three years later. Despite equally aggressive vaccination campaigns for other diseases, the World Health Organization missed its target date of 2000 for the eradication of polio (although the campaign is still underway). Whether similar victories will be possible with measles, diptheria, and other diseases largely depends on the success of current vaccination campaigns and the role that anti-vaccinationists will play in opposing them. There's also the fundamental question of why children in many Third World countries are still dying of diseases that are supposedly preventable through the use of vaccines.
The autism-vaccination link may only be the latest development but the basic arguments seem pretty much the same as ever. The battle continues.