Covid vaccines can help get us back to normality again

Covid vaccines can help get us back to normality again

20 January 2021

THE roll-out of Covid vaccines is being seen as the crucial phase of the battle to end the pandemic.

In the coming weeks and months millions of people will be vaccinated as part of a global campaign to defeat the virus and save countless lives.

A century ago a similar battle was taking place against one of the biggest killers in human history — smallpox.

Smallpox was one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity and caused millions of deaths before it was eradicated in 1980. It is believed to have existed for at least 3,000 years.

It is estimated to have killed up to 300 million people in the 20th century and around 500 million people in the last 100 years of its existence. As recently as 1967, 15 million cases occurred a year.

An effective vaccine was famously discovered by Edward Jenner in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until the middle of the following century that widespread vaccination was introduced.

In 1853 vaccination was made compulsory in the UK — which then included all of Ireland — and only ended in the early 1970s.

Children were inoculated at early age and certificates were issued on completion. Any parent who did not get their child vaccinated could face a heavy fine.

Local woman Mary Laird, who lives between Killough and Downpatrick, has discovered certificates relating to her two aunts, Margaret and Bridget Graham, who were just babies when they were given their smallpox vaccines.

They were the daughters of Joseph and Lily Graham, from the townland of Ballynewport, near Bright, the heart of Lecale.

Margaret, who was known as Maddy, was just two-and-a-half months old when she was inoculated in 1914, while younger daughter Bridget received her vaccination a year later at the age of three months.

Mary says the certificates are a fascinating reminder of a bygone age.

“We’re living in strange times now, what with Covid-19, but back then people were also getting vaccinated,” she remarked. “It was a hard life for many people, but they got on with it.”

Mary’s aunt Bridget died in 1940 aged just 25 following complications in child berth.

Maddy emigrated to America, got married and raised a family in Ohio. She got the Down Recorder sent to her every week and made many visits back home up until her death in 1990 aged 76.