Friday 3 September 2021

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: V is for...


We have seen far more lovely new faces this Summer as restrictions have gradually eased and visitors have returned to Orkney in larger numbers.

We are still asking researchers to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands and we still encourage booking for those visitors with more complex enquiries, but it does feel quite like old summers again...

Vaccines are a huge part of this and we have been looking at vaccinations in Orkney during the 19th century.

Smallpox was the virus everyone feared and then, as now, there was some scepticism about the inoculation offered by medics which was the deliberate infection with the much less dangerous cowpox. Again, as now, the vast majority of people did consent to be inoculated.

'Many people throughout the country are rather sceptical, but I have not found a single instance of real mistrust that is, I have not found anyone who was unwilling to try cowpox'

Then, as now, some did not seek the treatment until cases were high in their area and, as now, vaccine supplies sometimes struggled to cope with demand:

'I have known many families of three, four or five children be unvaccinated,' til small pox makes its appearance in the islands and then the demand caused by terror of the pest, was so great that a sufficient quantity of lymphs could not be so expeditiously obtained as was required.'

Then, as now, there was a spread of disinformation and alarm at the few incidences of vaccinated people becoming ill:

Click on image to enlarge 

Archives consulted: 

D2/12/11: Dr William Wood, Kirkwall in reply to Balfour's letter regarding the establishment of a Vaccine Board in Scotland and commenting on the situation regarding vaccination in Orkney at that time. 7th October 1836

SC11/5/1812/18: Report of the national vaccine establishment 9th March 1812