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Two bifurcated needles used for smallpox vaccination, Europe, 1968

Bifurcated needles have two prongs and were developed in 1968. A small drop of smallpox vaccine is placed between the prongs and 15 punctures are made into the skin. The skin of the person to be vaccinated is not disinfected beforehand as this kills the vaccine. The needles were easy to use and sterilise (by boiling or passing through a flame) and the technique could be learnt by anyone, making widespread effective vaccination possible. The needles replaced the older gun injectors and hi-tech jet injectors. These types of needles were used as part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) smallpox eradication campaign. WHO officially announced that they had achieved their goal in 1979. However, small samples have been kept in government laboratories in both the USA and Russia. There have been fears that these reference samples could be used as the raw material for biological weapons.

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    Glossary: vaccination

    The introduction of vaccine into the body for the purpose of inducing immunity. Coined originally to apply to the injection of smallpox vaccine, the term has come to mean any immunising procedure in which vaccine is injected.

    Glossary: vaccination needle

    No description.

    Glossary: disinfection

    A process of cleaning that kills most micro-organisms.

    Glossary: smallpox

    Smallpox is an infectious virus unique to humans. It results in a characteristic skin rash and fluid-filled blisters. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 1800s and 1900s, the World Health Organisation certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. Smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely wiped out.

    Glossary: vaccine

    A substance given to humans or animals to improve immunity from disease. A vaccine can sometimes contain a small amount of bacteria that is designed to stimulate the body's reaction to that particular disease. The first vaccine was developed in 1796 by Edward Jenner to prevent smallpox.