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The invention that made mass vaccinations possible

Topic: The invention that made mass vaccinations possible

Hundreds of millions of adults around the world can expect to be vaccinated against Covid over the next few months. It will be delivered by hypodermic syringe – but who invented it?

Most people with access to healthcare take vaccinations for granted.

The syringe that is now being used to provide protection against Covid may look simple enough – but appearances can be deceptive.

It took millennia to create the hypodermic syringe in a form that was to allow mass vaccinations to take place today.

An Irish surgeon, Francis Rynd, and French physician, Charles Pravaz, made a huge contribution to the field in the mid-19th Century.

But it was a Scottish doctor, Alexander Wood, who is now widely credited with inventing the modern-day hypodermic syringe.

Wood may have had little idea of the importance of his invention in the 1850s.

But his creation of an all-glass syringe with plunger and fine-bore needle was to become as recognisable a medical device as the stethoscope.

Syringes in some form or another have been around at least since the time of the Greek physician Hippocrates in the 5th Century BC.

Early versions were crude. Constructed of animal bladders and pipes or quills, they were largely used for irrigation – the practice of washing out or flushing a wound or body – or enemas.

In the 11th Century, an Egyptian ophthalmologist used the first known hypodermic-like tool to remove cataracts.

But it wasn’t until the mid-17th Century that the earliest confirmed experiments in intravenous injection were undertaken.

In experiments with dogs in 1656, Britain’s Sir Christopher Wren – better known as an architect – administered drugs using an animal bladder attached to a hollow goose quill.

“He injected opium, alcohol and crocus metallodrug (a 17th Century emetic) into different dogs,” explains anaesthetist Christine Ball, honorary curator of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History in Melbourne.

“As we would expect, the first went to sleep, the second became very drunk and the third became very dead.”

Topic Discussed: The invention that made mass vaccinations possible

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