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Vaccination lancet, London, England, 1822-1850

The steel blades would have been dipped into lymph material from a pus-filled skin blister of a person already vaccinated against smallpox. The lancet blade would then be inserted into the skin and used to vaccinate another person. This arm-to-arm vaccination was made illegal in 1898, as it could transmit other diseases. Specially prepared animal lymph was used instead. Vaccination did not give life-long immunity and needed to be repeated. Smallpox was the first disease that could be vaccinated against. This vaccination lancet with tortoiseshell guards was made by Ferguson, a surgical instrument maker.

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Glossary: vaccination

The introduction of vaccine into the body for the purpose of inducing immunity. Coined originally to apply to the injection of smallpox vaccine, the term has come to mean any immunising procedure in which vaccine is injected.

Glossary: lancets

A surgical instrument of various forms, commonly sharp-pointed and two-edged. The lancet is used in venesection (the act of opening a vein for bloodletting), and in opening abscesses.

Glossary: lymph

Clear, slightly yellowish fluid derived from the blood and similar in composition to plasma. Lymph conveys white blood cells and some nutrients to the tissues.

Glossary: smallpox

Smallpox is an infectious virus unique to humans. It results in a characteristic skin rash and fluid-filled blisters. After successful vaccination campaigns throughout the 1800s and 1900s, the World Health Organisation certified the eradication of smallpox in 1979. Smallpox is the only human infectious disease to have been completely wiped out.