Before World War II, diphtheria was a major killer disease of childhood. In this article in Microbiology Today (pdf) Philip Mortimer looks at why Britain did not start its national efforts to vaccinate the population against this bacterial infection sooner and the lessons that have been learnt since:
Delay and indifference characterized the interwar period of British public health provision, at least in respect of diphtheria prophylaxis. The two decades witnessed a gradual decline in numbers of diphtheria cases and deaths, mainly attributable to the increasingly effective use of diphtheria antitoxin; but the UK signally failed to take advantage of the opportunity that, from the mid-1920s, diphtheria toxoid (i.e. vaccine) offered to eliminate the disease. The failure was, at its root, an administrative rather than a scientific or professional one, and the emergency measures of 1940 that repaired the lapse in effect acknowledged that.