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Six bifurcated needles for smallpox vaccination, Germany, 1975-1978

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Bifurcated needles have two prongs. A small drop of smallpox vaccine was placed between the prongs and approximately fifteen punctures would be made into the skin. The needles were easy to use and the technique could be learnt by anyone, making effective widespread vaccination possible. The needles were sterilised by boiling or passing through a flame. The skin was not disinfected before use as this killed the vaccine. The needles were developed by Wyeth for the World Health Organisation’s Global Smallpox Eradication programme. Wyeth waived the patent royalties to the needles meaning that vaccination was affordable and available to all. The needles are shown here with dried smallpox vaccine (1986-1658 Pt2).

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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

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    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.