April 20, 2017
During the 1960s and 1970s, mass vaccination campaigns sought to eradicate diseases such as polio, measles, and smallpox from the face of the earth. Vaccination teams from the US Public Health Service, the World Health Organization, and the non-profit Christian organization, Brother’s Brother Foundation, trekked the globe to educate foreign governments and medical personnel, isolate infectious pathogens, and to immunize all.
These medical expeditions have been well documented within government reports and photographs. Autobiographies by several health officials have also recorded the journeys. Yet never have these events been told by those who received the vaccinations. For the first time ever, those who received mass jet injector vaccinations in Nigeria as children tell what they remember.
What do you remember most of about the mass jet injector vaccinations?
“I remember getting my inoculation in 1968/69 in elementary school in Ibadan!! Gosh, I still remember it so vividly because it was so painful, and it left that unique mark,” reminisced a gentleman.
“Yes, I’m looking at the scar on my left arm,” said another gentleman.
“We called it ‘numba’ in primary school,” said a lady.
Another lady said, “Numba…like a bite mark on your arm!”
“The injections were quite painful then,” another gentleman recalled. “I still remember the horror on our faces when the health workers arrived at our school in 1975 and our headmaster delivered us unto their hands. I have never seen so many crying children in such close proximity—we were all united in terror.”
Another gentleman said, “Still on my left arm. Everyone collected ‘numba.’”
“Frightful,” declared yet another man. “The health workers hold that thing like it’s a pistol. The searing pain and the sure abscess that follows, who can forget!… some of the pupils running away and refusing to be vaccinated, chiefly as a result of the pains. We were vaccinated—this was in the late 1970s—against such diseases like polio, measles, and yellow fever.”
Was the whole village and community vaccinated all at once? I asked.
“The vaccination was done at the village level and it usually took 1 to 2 days to complete before they moved onto the next village within the community. The event took place at the village primary school, hence the pupils were first vaccinated before adults,” said the first gentleman.
Were there any fears with use of the jet injector?
“To the best of my knowledge, there was none, aside from the pains associated with the vaccination and the attendant abscess the most often (would say up to 80% developed into abscess).”
Another gentleman wittily reflected, “ A man was receiving what he will never understand.”
Many photographs captured looks of concern and apprehension and rightfully so. What were they to think as unknown foreigners arrived in their village with an unheard of device that resembled a pistol to prevent them from an unheard of disease? Success of the vaccination campaign was only the result of local officials who ensured the injections were safe.
Are these devices still used in your childhood village today? If not, when was the last time you remember jet injectors being used?
“The last time I remembered it being used was around 1981 and I can’t remember it still being used afterwards. Reason would be that the community’s clinic was ‘upgraded’ to a cottage hospital and most of the immunizations for kids took place there.”
Although vaccinated as young children, the experiences were so unique and fearful that they were forever imprinted within their memories. In fact, almost all who have been inoculated with these devices have not forgotten the experience.
* Names were withheld for privacy.