Pandemics! What have we learned in 200 years?

For more than a year the world has been struggling with a pandemic that has killed almost four million of the population even with today’s medical knowledge.  The world has been battling viruses for centuries and the methods of fighting virus diseases really hasn’t changed much.

200 years ago smallpox was endemic to Europe, Asia and Arabia and had been for centuries, a persistent menace that killed three out of ten people it infected and left the rest disfigured with pockmarked scars. But the death rate in the Old World paled in comparison to the devastation wrought on native populations in the New World when the smallpox virus arrived there in the 15th century with the first European explorers.

The indigenous peoples of modern-day Mexico and the United States had zero natural immunity to smallpox and the virus cut them down by the tens of millions.

“There hasn’t been a kill off in human history to match what happened in the Americas—90 to 95 percent of the indigenous population wiped out over a century,” says Mockaitis. “Mexico goes from 11 million people pre-conquest to one million.”

So where did that smallpox epidemic come from?*

  • 6th Century—Increased trade with China and Korea brings smallpox to Japan.
  • 7th Century—Arab expansion spreads smallpox into northern Africa, Spain, and Portugal.
  • 11th Century—Crusades further spread smallpox in Europe.
  • 15th Century—Portugal occupies part of western Africa, bringing smallpox to Africa.
  • 16th Century—European settlers and the African slave trade import smallpox into:
    • The Caribbean
    • Central and South America
  • 17th Century—European settlers bring smallpox to North America.
  • 18th Century—Explorers from Great Britain bring smallpox to Australia.

*Highlights from History: (CDC.gov website)

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) Photo courtesy of National Library of Medicine

Almost 200 years ago on November 6th 1821, 20 years after Edward Jenner released his vaccine against smallpox to the world, King Ferdinand 1 of Italy signed this edict and sent it to all towns in the Regno delle Due Sicilie. The Diocese sent this decree out to all priests in the area and each had to sign that they had received and understood it.

I am not going to do a literal translation but I will transcribe its contents for you.

Photo courtesy of Archives of the Diocese of Sora

We recognize the results of this vaccine and its benefits to the population and have prepared the following decree.

Art. 1  No unvaccinated persons or their families can receive any kind of (social) assistance unless they can produce a certificate of vaccination for themselves and their families or can prove that they have had smallpox naturally.

Art. 2 The above certificate must be issued by the priest without charge and contain the name of the vaccinated person(s), the date of vaccination and number.

Art. 3 Any person dying of smallpox must be interred in churches that are outside the town limits and sealed in coffins so as not to spread the disease among the inhabitants.

Art. 4 The Administrators of orphanages and those who take in the abandoned babies and children must vaccinate these children within one month of their arrival unless they have other health issues. If these rules are not followed those persons will be removed from their post and deemed responsible for any damage to life or health of others that may follow.

Art. 5  Each priest must keep a register of vaccinated children in their parish.  At the end of each year with the cooperation of the local admiration the names will be placed in a container and for each 100 names one will be drawn and the Head of the family will receive a prize of 6 ducati,

Art. 6  The vaccination commission together with the Secretary of State for Internal Affairs will distribute the available vaccines proportionately.

Art. 7 Each priest and anyone who participates in the instruction of the people is to promote the use of the vaccine and make them aware of the serious consequences of leaving their children exposed to this virus.

Art. 8 The Director and administrators of schools and universities both civil and military must under the same conditions as Art. 4 must make sure their students are vaccinated unless they have previously done so or have had smallpox naturally.

Art. 9 All Directors of the State must do their part to see that this program is executed.

The edict wasn’t without its problems.  Parents were reluctant to have their child ‘infected or innoculated’ with a disease and many did not present their children for vaccination.  Priests were required to produce lists of those who did not present their children for vaccination. 

Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Sora

I am sure this information is currently being compiled for our current vaccination program.

In the 19th Century, smallpox is thought to have killed 400,000 people a year in Europe alone. “Personally, it gives me hope for the Covid-19 vaccine,” says René Najera. “Now we have 200 years of knowledge of viruses and the immune system but Jenner did all this without knowing what he was dealing with.”

Comments
One Response to “Pandemics! What have we learned in 200 years?”
  1. Kathleen E Lo PINTO VIGNOLINI says:

    That is Amazing, Ann! So much is the same as now, Italy’s requirements, & even the “anti-vaxors.” I knew about the Smallpox spread, but the details of the numbers are awful. WoW. thanks for the info.

    Liked by 1 person

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