In 1979, smallpox officially became the first disease ever to be eradicated by mankind. The global efforts to defeat this dreadful pandemic, however, started almost two centuries before. One of the most important, and sometimes forgotten, events in the fight against smallpox was the Royal Philanthropic Expedition of the Vaccine, commissioned by Charles IV of Spain to physicians Francisco Xavier Balmis y Berenguer and Jose Salvany in 1804. The aim of this expedition was to take the smallpox vaccine, discovered by Jenner, to Spain’s territories in the Americas and in the Far East. After several years of vaccination in modern day Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and the Philippines, the expedition returned to Europe. To this day, the Balmis and Salvany expedition remains a great example of international cooperation, and a landmark in the history of public health.
- 19th century
- history of medicine
- smallpox vaccine
- mass immunisation
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Competing interests: None declared.
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