Halifax

SMALLPOX SCARE CAUSES ALARM

The outbreak in Bradford had an impact elsewhere in Yorkshire.  This report is from the Halifax Evening Courier:

SUPPLIES of smallpox vaccines ran out in Halifax as health officials vainly attempted to prevent public panic as the disease claimed the lives of six British victims in January and put more people in hospital.

The majority were from Bradford and could be traced back to a nine-year-old Pakistani girl.

Following the death of the first victim – a 40-year-old Bradford man – Dr John Cairns, the medical officer of health for Halifax, arranged vaccination sessions for Pakistani immigrants as a precautionary measure.

In the following days, more suspected cases were reported and patients were taken to Oakwell Hospital, Birstall, to be kept in isolation while Halifax hospitals were put on stand-by to take surgical and medical cases from Bradford, if necessary.

Initially, there was little concern but by the time the disease had claimed its third victim – a two-year-old boy – alarm was growing among the population of West Yorkshire.

On January 15, it was reported that hundreds, including complete families from grandmothers to grandchildren, had queued for more than an hour before a vaccination session was due to start at the Halifax health department in Powell Street. By lunchtime, the queue stretched into Commercial Street.

Many factories also applied to the department for mass vaccination of their staff but were told it was impossible because no staff could be spared to carry it out. Meanwhile, Mr N. Patterson, the Halifax town station master said that railway employees had been “strongly advised” to be vaccinated as soon as possible. A similar recommendation was made to bus crews by the Halifax Passenger Transport Department because of the contact they had with a large section of the public.

Dr N. E. Gordon, the medical officer of health for the Upper Calder Valley, who had been helping colleagues to carry out an emergency vaccination programme in Bradford, asked the people in his district to remain calm.

“This is a time when we can help other people. We have not the staff to support public vaccination in the Calder Valley at present and it is not necessary.”

On January 16, it was reported that all West Riding supplies of the smallpox vaccination had been used up and urgent messages had gone to the Ministry of Health for immediate further supplies.

All that remained in Halifax was a small emergency stock for school children, infants and emergency cases.

However, Dr Cairns stressed: “There is absolutely no need for any panic. I do not expect any cases in Halifax and I feel quite confident about the measures we have already taken but we shall continue to be vigilant.”

Unfortunately, not everyone was convinced. Mr E. Pearson, chairman of the Halifax Taxi Proprietors’ Association, announced that in the interests of the public, the town’s taxi drivers would ask all Pakinstani people whether they had been vaccinated against smallpox before carrying them. They would refuse to accept passengers who had not.

Dr Cairns responded that the taxi drivers actions were “very wrong”. “They are taking an undue precaution and one which is really quite unnecessary.”

There were also repercussions for sporting events. As the death toll reached six with a three-year-old boy on January 19, the Football League Management Committee announced the postponement of the Bradford City v Oldham Athletic and Peterborough v Bradford matches.


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