Learn about the Bifurcated Needle

Learn about the Bifurcated Needle

It took about fifteen jabs to get the job done!

6/14/2022 | Mark Hanson, Curator

Bifurcated needles like this one where used to inoculate people against smallpox. About the size of a large sewing needle, this artifact has a sharp fork instead on an eye on the end. The fork, or bifurcation, collected a drop of vaccine from a vial. Fifteen jabs to the upper arm transferred the vaccine under the skin.

Healthcare providers did try other ways to streamline the smallpox inoculation process. In the 1960s and 1970s, the pressurized Ped-O-Jet® injector could shoot the vaccine into the skin without a needle! It eventually faded from use. The humble bifurcated needle proved, simpler, safer, and more effective.

If you would like to see bifurcated needle in person, check out our newest exhibit: “A History of Healing: Infectious Diseases and the Community Response to Defeat Them.”