Diphtheria, the public health response and the origins of the childhood immunisation programme in Ireland

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Dwyer, Michael Anthony
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University College Cork
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In common with most countries, the childhood immunisation programme in Ireland was founded on a successful public health response to diphtheria. The success of the antidiphtheria public health intervention in Ireland has meant that no case of the disease has been recorded in the state for almost fifty years. This is a significant achievement considering that diphtheria continues to appear annually in many European states, albeit in much reduced numbers on former years. 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 is no more than an obscure disease mentioned in leaflets promoting the benefits of childhood immunisation. 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 immunisation received with open arms by public health authorities, the wider medical community, and the general public? This study tackles these questions by undertaking the first historical examination of the issues which underpin the origins of active immunisation in Ireland. It explores the driving forces that shaped the national childhood immunisation programme, and those that opposed them. In addition, it examines the complex social implications attendant on the introduction of this mass public health intervention in an Irish context.
Ireland , Ring College , Diphtheria , Immunisation , Vaccination , History , Contemporary vaccination history , Vaccine trials , Medical ethics
Dwyer, M. A. 2015. Diphtheria, the public health response and the origins of the childhood immunisation programme in Ireland. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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