The Society for Promotion of Science of Science & Technology in India (SPSTI), in association with Indian National Young Academy of Sciences and Chandigarh Chapter of the National Academy of Sciences, India with support from Haryana State Council for Science, Innovation and Technology has organized a series of talk on “All you want to know about Corona vaccine”. The final session of the series was conducted on “History of Immunization with special reference to India” on February 08, 2021 at 2.30 pm through online mode. The session was attended by more than 90 participants on the zoom and about 411 viewed the same on the Facebook page of SPSTI.

Dr. Sugandha Maheshwary introduced the speaker, Prof. Rajesh Kochhar, Honorary Professor, Panjab University, Chandigarh. Professor Kochhar talked about the history of vaccines. The term vaccine came from word cow as it was developed as inoculation against cow pox for immunizing against smallpox. Western countries looked at smallpox as a disease and looked for medicine to cure. But India, Persia, China, Turkey, and the west coast of Africa knew that smallpox is not curable, so instead of medicine, they wanted to raise immunity against smallpox. These countries found that if a person gets smallpox they would not suffer from it again. So under controlled condition inoculation was done, as a prevention.

He shared during 1800 it was known that inoculation with cowpox provided immunity against cowpox. He shared like England learned many other things like zinc metallurgy, carbon steel, understanding rockets, it learned about virolation from Turkey and more than immunity for smallpox, it was the first realization that immunization can provide prevention against future infections. In 1700 a trader doctor from China, informed England about Chinese virolation programme by snuffing virola, but that did not make any impact and England learned about virolation from Turkey.  Within 100 years modification was made in the process of inoculation by using cowpox instead of smallpox leading to the beginning of vaccination. He shared that England was important as these events became the way British looked at India. An English lady,  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, had her both children virolated. In Boston, though slaves who were inoculated were popular on the west coast and were sold in at a higher rate. When immunization was introduced in England it was not practiced by the medical professionals and received opposition from the medical mainstream and church. During 1790’s The british soldiers were variolated but there was resistance to variolation in the USA and they were not variolated.  But the US also virolated their soldiers, which created an epidemic and about half the US army was killed and during the initial days even the US also received opposition due to certain  reservations. The dissemination of knowledge about virolation was difficult in Europe as throughout the 18th century latin was for learned people and English was used for reaching people at large. Further he said, Royalty was interested to test the inoculations, so they offered people in jail, who were given the death sentence, to have inoculation and in case they survive they would be freed. Children who were in orphanages were also part of such experiments. After such experiments the King got his granddaughters inoculated. There was resistance when smallpox inoculation was introduced as it was new, but when people got used to it the cowpox inoculation came in and it again faced similar resistance from masses.

He shared the first account from India was documented by Dr. Holwell, published in England 1767 and is a well known case that India does not figure in Europe’s story of smallpox. In India, there were two ways inoculation was practiced. One was, they pricked with thorns, took out pus and soaked twisted silk thread in that pus and with a needle and pierce it. In some cases the epidemic was very strong, there were hereditary inoculators who would sieve the pus when smallpox was mild, preserve it and over years it further weakens and then was used for inoculation, which became relatively safe. Another method was arm to arm method. Smallpox was inoculated to another person from a person who was suffering from smallpox, which was a dangerous method. Variolation was practiced in Bengal and adjoining areas of Orissa, but was not known in north India and South India. British tried to introduce it in South India to the captive people which included Indian soldiers in British army at Tiruchi  and inmates of male asylum of Madras. For some years variolation was done in south India but it became unnecessary as the vaccine was introduced by Iraq by overland route in Bombay in around 1802. British took it as a civilizing mission. The first vaccine in India was administered on half-caste eurasian girl. Further the cowpox was transmitted by successive inoculation to Madars and from there to Srilanka and Calcutta. Since vaccination received support from highest positions in England, all European agot themselves vaccinated and tried to propagate it among Indian as a civilizational work. There was no doubt vaccination was a good thing but due to a trust deficit, it prevented Indian people from accepting it. The only area where it became popular was Peshwa territory as Peshwa himself got vaccinated. The British medical officer who was involved in the incolation he integrated it with Indian mythology and since Peshwa supported it, the vaccination was accepted. Madras had fraud, where a well known doctor and scholar created a fictional ancient text depicting cowpox as boon from cow. In Calcutta Colebrook, a British Sanskrit scholar,  wrote a memorandum in Sanskrit addressing Indian physicians. British tried western knowledge as represented by vaccination against traditional Indian knowledge expressed by variolation. British attitude by that time had become extremely racially diverse in opposition to vaccination and started to relate it wait infanticide, sati and other obnoxious practices which India’s practiced. This was surely not a way of propagating something which is even scientifically valid. During 1804, England banned variolation and vaccination was introduced into India. It’s only about 30 or 50 years ago that smallpox was eradicated. But, still there are countries, like Pakistan, who oppose vaccination. He shared still reluctance is there with COVID-19 vaccine also and reason may be the trust deficit at present also.

The session was followed with questions from the audience who appreciated the session and there were discussions about the acceptance of medical colleges set up by British, how trends have changed in acceptance of science and information about vaccination, role of politics and media towards vaccination drive.

Dr. Chandra Shekhar Sharma from Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Hyderabad and Chair, INYAS presented concluding remarks and shared his views about the way we have understood COVID-19 in the last one year and also shared work of INYAS for promotion of science. He also thanked speakers of all sessions, along with SPSTI and Haryana State Council for Science, Innovation and Technology. Prof. Arun K. Grover, former Vice Chancellor, Punjab University, Chandigarh and Vice President, SPSTI presented vote of thanks to the audience and speakers. He also shared that SPSTI has conducted 26 events from May 2020 to till date.  All these events are available on SPSTI Facebook page. He also announced a new series of talks on ‘Science in the family’. The information about the same would be available on SPSTI website.

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