Prior to the mass social acceptance of childhood immunization in the 1940s, diphtheria was one of the most prolific child killers in history. The formation of a leathery membrane in the lower airways induced death by suffocation and earned diphtheria the moniker ‘strangling angel of children’. It showed scant regard for social status and infiltrated Europe’s royal palaces as sinuously as her slums and hovels. For parents and children of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Ireland, diphtheria represented the ‘most dreaded disease of childhood’ however, for their modern-day counterparts’ diphtheria has been relegated to a somewhat obscure disease. Few Irish doctors have seen a case of diphtheria, let alone treated one. In Ireland, diphtheria has been consigned to history, and so too have the horrors and mass fatalities once associated with it. But how was this achieved? Was active immunization received with open arms by public health authorities, the wider medical community, and the general public? This book tackles these questions by undertaking the first historical examination of the issues that underpin the origins of active immunization in Ireland. It explores the driving forces that shaped the national childhood immunization programme, and those that opposed them. In addition, it examines the complex social implications attendant on the introduction of this mass public health intervention.
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