Vaccination, yesterday and today | Investigator’s opinion

Epidemics have been around for as long as mankind. History records how people lived and died from diseases through the ages, such as the bubonic plague, the black plague, typhoid, cholera, the Spanish flu, avian flu, AIDS and now COVID-19. Humans eventually adapt to disease either naturally or by finding a cure; it is also sure that you can spell Sinovac. Distributing the remedy in the Philippines, however, is another story. If we are to believe Senator Panfilo Lacson’s suspicions, the vaccine will reach us as surely as you can spell “Kickvac”.

Re-reading the history of textbooks during the pandemic made it clear to me that the stories were biased in favor of American contributions to education and public health, unlike of course Spain, whose outstanding historical contribution. was oppression, which culminated in the Philippine revolution.

Textbooks focus on the end of the Spanish period and the struggle for independence, so students hardly remember that the San Lazaro and San Juan de Dios hospitals were established at the end of the 16th century in Intramuros and that the University of Santo Tomas was founded in the 17th century. Contrary to popular belief, public health was not an innovation of the American period, as we had the smallpox vaccination in the Philippines in 1805, the University of Santo Tomas graduated from Filipino doctors in 1877, the forerunner of the current Department of Health – the Higher Council of Health and Charity – was founded in 1883, and a Laboratorio Municipal de Manila was established in 1887 to examine food and water.

Prior to becoming a general in the US-Philippine War, Antonio Luna was appointed a chemist at the Laboratorio in 1895, undertaking studies on the purity of carabao milk and Pasig water.

Ongoing discussions about COVID-19 vaccines led me to search online, where I found that the most relevant Filipino surname today is “Vacunador” (vaccinator). Two relevant primary sources are free to download: La Gaceta de Manila, dated February 10, 1895, contains vaccine regulations approved by the Junta Superior de Sanidad and implemented by the government; and the Reglamento de Vacuna de las Islas Filipinas of 1873, annotated and extended with various legislation, salary tables and even the model of the relevant bureaucratic forms. This obscure pamphlet, scanned from the Harvard University library, documents a Spanish plan to create in each province or district one or two offices for vacunadores who could be sent to the pueblos of the archipelago with agents and assistants, “to show the benevolent interest that Spain has for the inhabitants of its overseas provinces (ultramar).

In 1803, the King of Spain Carlos IV, alias “El Cazador” (The hunter), organized an expedition to counter a smallpox epidemic. The expedition was led by Francisco Javier de Balmis, court doctor, whose mission was to distribute a vaccine in the Spanish overseas territories. He traveled by sea and carried the live vaccine through 27 boys who were vaccinated to develop antibodies which were then used to develop more of the drug. The 27 boys, with their mothers, symbolized “the king’s paternal concern for his subjects”.

Balmis arrived in Manila on April 15, 1805 aboard the ship “Magallanes”, and the next day vaccinated the children of the Governor General to reassure the population that everything was safe. A few days later, Balmis vaccinated other children in Intramuros and in the suburbs. The vaccine has also reached some provinces with the help of priests, gobernadorcillos and cabezas de barangay.

The smallpox epidemic led to the establishment of the Junta Central de Vacuna in Manila, with a board of directors that included the Governor General, the Archbishop of Manila, and the Provincial Fathers of the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans and Recollects. Vaccination farms have been established in Manila, Binondo, Tondo and Santa Cruz using healthy children. The extracted vaccines were collected and grown in the Casa Central de Vacuna in Manila, placed in crystal tubes and distributed elsewhere by the Cuerpo de Vacuna (Corps of Vaccinators).

However, we must be wary of this 19th century material and not believe that the smallpox vaccine was the best gift that Spain gave us. Then as now, all the good intentions expressed in laws, decrees, regulations and instructions often remained on paper and did not always correspond to effective implementation.

(End of Friday)

Comments are welcome on [email protected]

Read more

Don’t miss the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 other titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download from 4 a.m. and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

For comments, complaints or inquiries, contact us.

Edward K. Thompson