The vaccination that put Alzira in the history of medicine

This is a little-known document that came to the hands of the Catalan chemist and historian of photography Salvador Tió through a copy during his documentation on Innocent Paulí, Ferran’s close collaborator. The letter is signed by Dr. Pierre Paul Émile Roux, co-founder of the Pasteur Institute and a colleague of Louis Pasteur himself, and would read the following: «To Mr. Bernard Linarès, mayor of Alcira (Valencia). I appreciate your communication and I congratulate the people of Alcira and you. Also to the spirit of initiative that he has given to this great experience. made by his illustrious compatriot Dr. Ferran. I subscribe to the complete success and I sincerely wish you that July 24, 1919 marks a memorable date in the fight against tuberculosis ». The document is dated just one day later.

Today’s society is immersed, at the moment, in a historical period that can easily be compared with that time. A massive vaccination to stop a disease with the capacity to end the lives of millions of people. Something that, surely, would not be possible without the work carried out by Dr. Ferran in Alzira.

The Catalan doctor drew up the cholera vaccine in 1884, when he was 33 years old. To do this, he studied the discovery of the bacillus that caused tuberculosis made by the German Robert Koch (who received the Nobel Prize for this finding, a recognition that Ferran would not achieve, however). In the months prior to the manufacture of his remedy, he performed a thousand tests on animals until he formulated a remedy that he himself inoculated. Despite ingesting the cultures made with the cholera-causing bacillus by mouth, he did not become ill. Neither did Paulí nor his family and friends.

Only 0.13% of deaths

The epidemic was in a phase in which it generated great social alarm. But the political conjuncture of the time invited skepticism. And, in those years, talking about vaccines against diseases in the human species was little more than nonsense. However, the following year, Ferran would visit Alzira for the first time. The city was affected by the disease between March and September, as noted by the chronicler Aureliano Lairón. It was on April 24 when vaccination began in the town of Alzira. Later records would corroborate the efficacy of the serum prepared by the famous doctor. The city had an approximate census of 16,000 people, of which 11,000 were vaccinated. Only 15 lost their lives due to cholera, that is, 0.13%. In contrast, of the remaining 5,000, 216 died from the epidemic. However, it was necessary to wait for the massive vaccinations of the armies that participated in the First World War to obtain the international recognition it deserved. The political disputes of the time over inoculation cost, according to some sources, around 150,000 lives in the Spanish state alone. Its formula was used until 1970.

Precisely, after the most important warlike conflict on the continent (until that moment), Ferran returned to Alzira. The city demanded that Ferran repeat the process carried out with cholera also with tuberculosis, the second of the great investigations carried out by the doctor. The disease had already claimed many lives in a time of hardship. Thus, he went back to the city, where he established two inoculation points. one in the Hospital de Santa Lucía and a second in the Escuelas Pías.

Together with local doctors and other collaborators, more than 10,000 doses of their vaccine were administered again. After the campaign, the town hall named Dr. Ferran the adoptive son of the city, who received recognition from the Pasteur Institute for his collaboration in the fight against the disease.

Health vanguard. Alzira was a pioneer in the world of medicine more than a hundred years ago. 1 Doctor Ferran during the cholera vaccination in the Pious Schools. 2 Letter in which the Pasteur Institute congratulates Alzira in July 1919. F