How the first vaccine was distributed 200 years ago

A doctor vaccinating a small girl, other girls with loosened blouses wait their turn apprehensively by Lance Calkin


Today, vaccine producers can pack vials at the frequency of millions a day and pass them to nearly any country within hours. Still, when the smallpox vaccine entered in India in the early 1800s, the process of distributing was prolonged.

It was the first vaccine made by people, not factories. Dr Edward Jenner introduced the word vaccination into the scientific literature in the late 1700s.

Ancient Approach

Directly applied to your arm and after approximately a week, a boil appeared at the spot. Then a doctor drew the pus, which was the vaccine and treated others with it. To send the vaccine to a remote region, it requires “vaccine couriers.

First Trail

In the last 1800, the first trial to export the smallpox vaccine to India started. The British used a “human chain” also known as “arm-to-arm” supply which means inoculating one person at a time so that at least one person would have a harvestable pustule on their arm when the ship touched Bombay. But unfortunately, the experiment failed.

Second Trail

Two years later, they sent the dry vaccine from Vienna to Baghdad, where it was used to inoculate a boy. The vaccine from his arm was sent to Basra to begin an arm-to-arm supply that reached Bombay in June.

On June 14, 1802, a girl became the first person to be vaccinated against smallpox on Indian soil. Fluid from her arm was applied to vaccinate five other children, and slowly the vaccine spread across the country arm-to-arm. By 1807, over 1 million people across India were vaccinated by this method.

By Louis Boilly — Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17546032


The arm to arm process is also known as inoculation very often confused with vaccination, but these words are not synonyms.

Vaccination is the more conventionally accepted term, which genuinely consists of a ‘safe’ injection of a sample taken from a cow suffering from the disease. Inoculation, an old practice, is the injection of the virus taken from a pustule or scab of a disease sufferer into the superficial layers of the skin, commonly on the upper arm.

Often inoculation was done ‘arm-to-arm’ which many times caused the patient to get infected with the disease, and in rare cases, the infection transformed into a severe case.

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