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Getting the Vaccine

The experience of getting a vaccine ‘shot’ could, up to the mid-twentieth-century, be painful in a way that we would not recognise today due to comparatively unsophisticated equipment used. The vehicle of one particular shot was called ‘The Branding Iron’ by Joe Scanlon and his contemporaries.

Joe Scanlon, who grew up near the Grattan Street Medical Centre in Cork City, remembers the centre, and describes receiving the Tuberculosis and/or Polio vaccine at the age of eight in the early 1960s. It was nicknamed ‘The Branding Iron’ among the children, and Joe gives a vivid description of his experience that day.

Content log of this extract (the full transcript can be accessed here in the item entry): No such thing as jumping the queue –  the TB injections – we called them afterwards ‘the Branding Iron’ – 55 years afterwards I still have the scar on my arm – there was such a crowd there we were actually out on the street – in a state of shock – eyes, mouth wide open – I was losing weight with fear – closer and closer – like someone on a different planet – at this stage ... I was after losing another two stone with fear – this thing came out, it was like a bolt – the needles 55 years ago weren’t as thin, believe me – there was this sudden shock of a thump went into your system as if you were electrocuted – I was screaming as well as the next guy – we could have made a record of 60 children screaming at the same time – next time it was sugar lumps

Liam Ó hUigín grew up on Henry Street in the vicinity of North and South Main Streets in the 1940s and 1950s. In this excerpt, Liam describes his trip to Grattan Street dispensary to get vaccinated.

Content log of this extract (the full transcript can be accessed here in the item entry): Not too sure which it was – you’d be dreading the needle at that time –like six inch nails compared to what they had today – the needles were vicious altogether – a grey-haired women on the left hand side – bench seats like you’d see in a church

For related titbits gleaned from other sources, see below

‘Scraped’ somewhere else: the débutantes and the doctors

‘A spoonful of sugar’: inspired by the polio vaccine


This is a live resource that will grow throughout 2021 and 2022.