11/14/2013 05:11 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Exhibit on vaccines and epidemics to open at Museum of Health Care

KINGSTON, Ont. - A new long-term exhibit opening this month at the Museum of Health Care explores the importance of vaccinations in public health and preventing disease.

Artifacts range from 19th-century vaccination devices used against smallpox to a 1937 iron lung for the treatment of polio.

As well, documentary videos from the 1950s and '60s highlight the history of vaccination.

Museum curator Pamela Peacock said the focus is on three diseases that saw significant decreases in the 20th century because of immunization — diphtheria, polio and whooping cough — and on smallpox in the 19th century.

"Canadian scientists were at the forefront and made really important discoveries" during the development of vaccines against those diseases, she said.

Currently, she added, there is "a healthy public debate" about the benefits and risks of vaccination, but some of the discussion hasn't been rooted in sound science. The exhibit aims to show why vaccines were "such a godsend to most people when they were finally invented."

"Let's not return to that state where we have to relearn to appreciate vaccines," Peacock said.

"Vaccines and Immunization: Epidemics, Prevention, and Canadian Innovation" opens Nov. 27. The Museum of Health Care is located on the grounds of Kingston General Hospital.