The monument to the children in A Coruña. / sur

The Spanish and British philanthropic contribution to humanity

Spain organised the first international vaccination campaign in history

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

This humanitarian story starts with a vaccination organised by an English Lady. It is now 300 years since Mary Wortley Montagu introduced inoculation against smallpox to England to prevent a pandemic. Later, it was her compatriot, Edward Jenner, who was the first to discover the real vaccine. In December 1800, Doctor Francesc Piguillem i Verdacer injected the first smallpox vaccines in the history of the Iberian peninsula. In 1803, Spain started vaccinating its population and eventually arranged the first international healthcare expedition. Here's how it started.

'Mother of inoculation'

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. / sur

In 1721, a smallpox epidemic struck England. That year, English aristocrat, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, introduced inoculation against smallpox into Europe, where at that time about 400,000 people died each year from the disease.

She was not a scientist, but a poet and writer who devoted her writing to improving social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth. However, Lady Mary goes down in history as a medical pioneer for introducing and advocating smallpox inoculation to Britain, where she even persuaded Caroline of Ansbach, the Princess of Wales, to test the treatment.

Lady Mary had witnessed this infectious disease during her travels and stay in the Ottoman Empire as well as personal experience of recovery after contracting the disease. That inoculation was definitely not always a safe process as it sometimes developed a real case of smallpox and could infect others.

'Father of vaccination'

Edward Jenner. / sur

In the 18th century, Europeans began an experiment known as variolation to prevent and not cure the smallpox. Eventually, British physician and scientist, Edward Jenner, developed the much safer technique of vaccination using cowpox instead of smallpox.

The British scientist was a pioneer of the concept of vaccinology

According to records he decided to engraft lymph taken from a pustulate of cowpox on the hand of a milkmaid into the arm of the person to be inoculated.

In 1798, that method was tested on an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps. The boy did not have any reaction after the procedure, and it let Jenner claim that his procedure "bestowed immunity against smallpox".

It was the world's first ever vaccine. Edward Jenner was a pioneer of the concept of vaccinology.

The power of philanthropy

The Maria Pita set off from A Coruña. / sur

On 3 December 1800, Doctor Francesc Piguillem i Verdacer inoculated the first smallpox vaccines in the history of the Iberian peninsula.

On 30 November 1803, an unusual expedition, officially called the Real Expedición Filantrópica de la Vacuna (Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition) set off from the Galician port of A Coruña to the Americas where smallpox had been spread from Europe by the Spanish conquistadors.

In 1803, Spain started the first international vaccination campaign in history

The expedition was led by the Spanish physician, Dr Francisco Javier de Balmis. It appears the vaccine was carried by children who had not had smallpox, and it was transmitted from one to another every nine or ten days. That's why among 37 people on board of the sailing corvette María Pita twenty-two were children - from Madrid, A Coruña and Santiago. The youngest was three years old, the oldest- nine.

The expedition's regulations clearly indicated the care the children were to receive. It is thought that none of them returned to Galicia. Today, the monument devoted to those children is erected in A Coruña as a reminder of that philanthropic expedition.

The vaccine was carried by children, and it was transmitted from one to another every nine or ten days

The Spanish healthcare mission, which lasted until 1806, vaccinated millions of inhabitants of Canary Islands, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, the Philippines and China. It is believed on his way back to Spain in 1806, Balmis even offered the vaccine to the British authorities in Saint Helena. It was done despite the ongoing conflict between Spain and Great Britain.

The Spanish even offered the vaccine to the British authorities in Saint Helena despite the ongoing conflict between Spain and Great Britain

Later, Edward Jenner himself wrote, "I don't imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this."

The expedition was the first international vaccination campaign and one of the most important events in the history of medicine.

Dr Jenner is considered a founder of vaccinology as a discipline, and his vaccine laid the foundation for contemporary discoveries in immunology.