Strangling Angel

Diphtheria and Childhood Immunization in Ireland

Michael Dwyer

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ISBN: 9781786940469

Publication: December 20, 2017

Series: Reappraisals in Irish History 9

In the USA? Buy the Hardback US edition
This book is the first comprehensive history of the anti-diphtheria campaign and the factors which facilitated or hindered the rollout of the national childhood immunization programme in Ireland. It is easy to forget the context in which Irish society opted to embrace mass childhood immunization. Dwyer shows us how we got where we are. He restores Diphtheria’s reputation as one of the most prolific child-killers of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Ireland and explores the factors which allowed the disease to take a heavy toll on child health and life-expectancy. Public health officials in the fledgling Irish Free State set the eradication of diphtheria among their first national goals, and eschewing the reticence of their British counterparts, adopted anti-diphtheria immunization as their weapon of choice. An unofficial alliance between Irish medical officers and the British pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome placed Ireland on the European frontline of the bacteriological revolution, however, Wellcome sponsored vaccine trials in Ireland side-lined the human rights of Ireland’s most vulnerable citizens: institutional children in state care. An immunization accident in County Waterford, and the death of a young girl, raised serious questions regarding the safety of the immunization process itself, resulting in a landmark High Court case and the Irish Medical Union’s twelve-year long withdrawal of immunization services. As childhood immunization is increasingly considered a lifestyle choice, rather than a lifesaving intervention, this book brings historical context to bear on current debate.

Michael Dwyer is Lecturer in the School of History at University College Cork.

Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 1


1 Aetiology of Diphtheria in Pre-independence Ireland 13

The ‘Strangling Angel’ in Ireland 16

Know Thine Enemy 27


2 Diphtheria ‘Arrives’ 32

Diphtheria in Cork City 36

Public Health Reform in the Irish Free State 41

The Development of Antitoxin as an

Anti-diphtheria Prophylactic 45


3 Anti-diphtheria Immunization in the Irish Free State 51

Anti-diphtheria Immunization in Dublin 63

J. C. Saunders Anti-diphtheria Intervention in Cork City 70


4 Developing Burroughs Wellcome Alum-Toxoid 77

Vaccine Trials in Cork City 82

Further Vaccine Trials 90


5 The Ring College Immunization Disaster 101

Inquest at Ring 110

Preparing for Battle 120


6 O’Cionnfaola v. the Wellcome Foundation and Daniel McCarthy 126

After Ring 134

7 Towards a National Immunization Programme 144

Dublin 153

End of an Epidemic 163


Conclusion 170

Bibliography 178

Index 195

Strangling Angel is well written, interesting and thoroughly researched, drawing on a variety of new primary sources. It is not a history of immunisation in the British Isles, but differences in approach between progressive Ireland and Britain are highlighted. It will be useful to medical, political and social historians with an interest in infections and their prevention.
William Dibb, British Society for the History of Medicine 

Format: Hardback

Size: 239 × 163 mm

224 Pages

ISBN: 9781786940469

Publication: December 20, 2017

Series: Reappraisals in Irish History 9

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