History of Mass Vaccination in India

In pictures: History of mass vaccination in India

In pictures: History of vaccination in India small pox first vaccine in India TB BCG vaccine pulse polio vaccine 30 stades

India is currently struggling with unprecedented cases of COVID-19, crossing the tally of 4 lakh per day. There is lack of oxygen, hospital beds, doctors and also hope. Crematoriums and burial grounds have run out of space and the dead are being cremated wherever possible. In these tough times, everyone is pinning hopes on Coronavirus vaccination, which can reduce the fatality rate drastically.

Almost 220 years after the first person was vaccinated in India, the country is struggling to immunise its citizens against COVID-19 due to inadequate supplies.

The smallpox vaccine lymph arrived in India in May 1802 and was first sent to Bombay (now Mumbai) followed by Madras (now Chennai), Poona (Pune), Hyderabad and Surat.

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The first vaccination in India was given to Anna Dusthall, a three-year-old from Mumbai, on June 14, 1802.

Back then, the vaccines were administered by ‘travelling vaccinators’ who were trained and went from place to place to inoculate every one. In the later years of the century, the vaccination was implemented through ‘vaccination and sanitary departments’ and there were Sanitary Commissioners who were given the charge of these efforts.

The outbreak of cholera and plague in India (1896-1907) followed by the Influenza Pandemic coinciding with the First World War (1914-1918) greatly influenced the vaccination efforts in India. The responsibility of vaccination was passed on to the local governments by the Centre. Also the typhoid vaccine trials began in 1904 and lasted until 1908.

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Between 1910 and 1930, a number of vaccine institutes were set up in the country and BCG vaccination (used against Tuberculosis) began on a pilot basis in 1948.

India had achieved freedom a year before and by 1951, BCG mass campaigns were rolled out. The fight against diseases was more focused in independent India.

The year 1962 was a milestone as National Smallpox Eradication Programme as well as the National Tuberculosis Eradication Programme were rolled out.

The government then invested in vaccine manufacturing and hired healthcare workers to perform inoculations across the country. 

By 1966 around 60 million primary vaccinations and 440 million re-vaccinations were given.

In 1970, the first indigenous oral polio vaccine trivalent Sabin was made.

In 1997, on a single day in January, India vaccinated 127 million children. India was declared polio-free in January 2014. Here’s India’s history of vaccination in pictures:

Bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine administering his cholera vaccine in Calcutta (Kolkata now) India, 1894. Source:  Wellcome Library, London
Bacteriologist Waldemar Haffkine administering his cholera vaccine in Calcutta (Kolkata now) India, 1894. Haffkine conducted tests of his two-dose cholera vaccine in India beginning 1893. Source: Wellcome Library, London
British doctors administering Cholera vaccine to members of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles during the 1893 epidemic . Pic:  Wellcome Library, London
British doctors administering Cholera vaccine to members of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles during the 1893 epidemic . Pic: Wellcome Library, London

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 In 1962, at the King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Madras (now Chennai), with the assistance of WHO and UNICEF, freeze-dried smallpox vaccine was prepared from virus grown on the abdomen of calves.
The crude pulp is put in the slow-speed centrifugation machine to eliminate tissue fragments.  Source: WHO
In 1962, at the King Institute of Preventive Medicine in Madras (now Chennai), with the assistance of WHO and UNICEF, freeze-dried smallpox vaccine was prepared from virus grown on the abdomen of calves.
The crude pulp is put in the slow-speed centrifugation machine to eliminate tissue fragments. Source: WHO
 Small pox: Mass vaccination of villagers near Madras (now Chennai) in 1962. Source: WHO
Small pox: Mass vaccination of villagers near Madras (now Chennai) in 1962. Source: WHO
The Director of the King Institute, Dr. N.R. Ratnakarnan, is seen carrying out the potency test (pock counting) on the vaccine. Source: WHO

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The potency of the vaccine is tested by injecting into eggs; between 1962 and 1969. Source: WHO
The potency of the vaccine is tested by injecting into eggs; between 1962 and 1969. Source: WHO
Boys from Sikh school having TB test before being given BCG vaccination in Simla, 1967. Source: WHO
Boys from Sikh school having TB test before being given BCG vaccination in Simla, 1967. Source: WHO
An auxiliary worker on cycle-rickshaw patrolling Old Delhi and summoning the people to come for TB testing and BCG vaccination. Source: WHO
An auxiliary worker on cycle-rickshaw patrolling Old Delhi and summoning the people to come for TB testing and BCG vaccination in 1967. Source: WHO 

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In 1970, India's first indigenous oral polio vaccine trivalent Sabin was made. Pic: Flickr
In 1970, India’s first indigenous oral polio vaccine trivalent Sabin was made. Pic: Flickr
Polio vaccine being carried in India’s remote hilly terrain in cold boxes. On a single January day in 1997, health workers vaccinated 127 million children against polio. The next year, 134 million were vaccinated on one day. Pic: World Health Organization (WHO)
A community health worker giving polio vaccine.  India was declared polio-free in January 2014. Pic: Flickr
A community health worker giving polio vaccine. India was declared polio-free in January 2014. Pic: UNICEF
A community health worker administering vaccine to a baby. The immunisation programme ensures that children get all the life-saving vaccines on time. Source:  Pippa Ranger/DFID through Flickr
A community health worker administering vaccine to a baby. The immunisation programme ensures that children get all the life-saving vaccines on time. Source: Pippa Ranger/DFID through Flickr

(Lead Pic through UNICEF; A doctor administering small pox vaccine to a child)

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