Dr John Scudder II The earliest volunteer for vaccine trial

Recently there was praise showered on two doctors in the UK who had volunteered to take the first shots of the vaccine developed for COVID-19 disease. More than a century earlier, there was another medical missionary, who submitted himself as the first volunteer to test a vaccine that was prepared then. It was none other than Dr John Scudder, the father of Dr Ida S Scudder and the son of Dr John Scudder Sr. 

This vaccine was developed by Waldemar Mordecai Wolff Haffkine. He was a Russian Jew, who was called from Paris to Bombay, to work on a cholera vaccine. When he arrived, he observed that there was a plague epidemic that needed immediate attention.

Recognising that many Indians would reject vaccines made of animal tissues, he devised a culture medium made of ghee or clarified butter used by most Indians.

Three drops of these cultures were strong enough to kill the most powerful rodents but when destroyed by adding carbolic or mustard, they were harmless to animals. However, they still possessed the power to stimulate a person’s immunity against plague.

To persuade the the local Indian population to have the vaccine, it was felt that the missionaries must be the first volunteers. Dr John Scudder agreed to be the first volunteer. At his request the Surgeon General Bannerman not only provided the vaccine, but personally came over to give the first vaccine.

The first vaccine was injected into Dr Scudder’s arm as he rolled up his sleeve. Then Mrs John followed. Then others who witnessed this mainly Europeans followed. When word spread that Dr and Mrs John had received the vaccine, many Indians from the Kodaikanal area came and received the vaccine.

Unfortunately, of all the people, Dr Scudder reacted badly. It was not clear whether it was heat boils of the hot summer or a reaction to the vaccine itself. These boils never healed even when he stayed in the cool climate of Kodaikanal. Two of the best doctors of India were in Kodaikanal at that time. They agreed to operate on him.

The surgery was done in the open verandah of the Scudder home. Young Ida and her brother Walter were the ones who did the sterilising. Large kettles were used for boiling the sheets. Then they were dried in their oven.

When they opened, the surgeons found a very extensive cancer which they were not able to remove as the patient was sinking  rapidly. They sewed up the wound.

As he regained consciousness, he uttered the words, “Oh Jesus, let the light go out.” Once he lost his consciousness, he was taken to be with his father in heaven. Dr Wykoff, one of the missionaries working at that time paid this rich tribute. 

“A great missionary’s has fallen. I use the words in their fullest sense, without any qualifications or reserve. In quiet steady devotion to daily work, in wise judgment in mission affairs, in evangelistic fervor and pastoral faithfulness, in short in all that makes a successful missionary, none have surpassed and few have equalled him.

His greatest fault, if it can be called such, was self depreciation. Only those who have seen him at his daily task in India and witnessed his dogged perseverance and his unwearied diligence, in spite of heat and sickness and hundreds of other trials, can appreciate the abundant service that this man of god did for his Master.”

Not only has Dr Ida Scudder’s success with CMC Vellore completely eclipsed  and overshadowed the work of her grandfather but of her own father as well. I had read this before, but had not included in my first manuscript.

When I read about modern volunteers, I went back to the almost ready for publishing manuscript and added this story. This is the simplest that I could do to recognise this great man of God who carried forward the legacy of his own father.

God willing, the biography of Dr John Scudder, the world’s first medical missionary is ready to be published soon. This story finds a place in that book.

Soon, I’ll share more details about this and other books likely to come out from Abel’s stable the Creative Abel.

Rajaratnam Abel

Published by rajaratnamabel

Having completed my undergraduate medical education from Christian Medical College, Vellore, India. Then I had the privilege of completing my Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA. I could also complete my PhD in Chennai, India. Based on my extensive work in nutrition backed by a number of scientific publication, I also received the Fellowship of the International College of Nutrition (FICN). I retired from active service in 2005. Since then God enabled me to be a Consultant Public Health Physician, at the SUHAM Trust of the DHAN Foundation in Madurai. I am involved in providing community based health care support to a large number Self Help Groups in 14 Indian states.

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