Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: The Haffkine Jeevauddha Mahamanam Mandal of Mumbai had suddenly come into the spotlight a few years ago when the Shiv Sena started trying to construct the Bal Thackeray Memorial on its premises.
Later, the site of this ceremony changed. Still, this entire episode told how we had forgotten the contribution of the man who played a significant role in getting India out of not one but two epidemics.
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Waldemar Mordecai Hafkin’s arrival in India was merely a coincidence of his life.
It is strange that he spent the 22 most important years of his life here.
He received his doctorate from St. Pittsburgh, but could not become a professor, because a Jew in the Russian Empire of Czar could not get such a prominent position, after which he thought it reasonable to say goodbye to his country, and he reached Geneva.
Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: Person to Gave Vaccine to India and Pioneer of plague vaccine and the “Little Dreyfus Affair.”
Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: Here he got the job of teaching physiology but was not satisfied and reached Paris, near his mentor Louis Pasteur.
Although he received the post of assistant librarian at the Pasteur Institute, he continued his study of bacteriology, which soon turned to the cholera vaccine.
Hafkin first tested this vaccine on chicken and mini pig and then injected himself with the vaccine. The vaccine he prepared required two injections at a fixed interval.
On being satisfied, when he thought of using it extensively, all the experts disagreed with him. Even his mentor Louis Pasteur did not agree with him.
Heavy opposition in India
Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: The claim of a vaccine had already been proved to be false, and it was said that cholera is mainly an intestinal disease, and the vaccine could not succeed.
In the meantime, Haffkine met Lord Friedrich Hamilton Dufferin, who was then the British ambassador in Paris and had previously been the Viceroy of India.
Cholera had spread in India on a large scale. Lord Frederick believed that this vaccine should be used in Bengal. His efforts soon brought Haffkine to India.
When he reached Kolkata in March 1893, many kinds of protests awaited him there.
Doubtless, if the vaccine could be successful, according to the Journal of Medical Biography, then it was also being said that the variety of bacteria that spread cholera in India is different from the one on which they have done experiments in Paris.
They believed that the vaccine which was created was not going to be of any use.
It was also being said that the common people of India consider the epidemic to be a divine disaster and do not even take allopathic medicine for it.
How would they be prepared to have two painful injections for this? During all these protests, Haffkine built his laboratory, but the biggest problem was that when he reached Bengal, the outbreak of cholera was over there. However, it was still raging in Awadh and Punjab province.
The world’s first large-scale vaccine test
Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: The biggest problem was facing the army, and the military approached Haffkine.
He first went to Agra, and then he wandered in the cantonments of North India and injected about 10 thousand soldiers.
The experiment was successful, and there was a demand for Haffkine nationwide.
When the outbreak of cholera returned to Kolkata, he was called there. He also went to the tea garden laborers of Assam and also in prison in Gaya.
In no time, they gave the vaccine to more than 42 thousand people. It is considered the world’s first large-scale vaccine trial.
Waldemar Mordecai Haffkine: Haffkine soon produced a new version of the vaccine, requiring a single injection.
When India was saved from the cholera epidemic, the bubonic plague knocked here.
The plague’s havoc and fear were much more significant than cholera, as it killed more than half of the infected people.
This time too, Haffkine was given the responsibility of preparing the vaccine, and he was invited to Mumbai, where a laboratory was built for him at Grant Medical College.
Hafkin arrived there in October 1896, and within three months, he not only prepared the vaccine but also made its first successful test on a rabbit.
This time also he adopted the same method and did the first human test himself, but the real test was done on the inmates of Byculla jail in the neighborhood. Drug testing on prisoners was not new in those days.
One hundred fifty-four prisoners were prepared for this, infecting them with the first plague.
Three prisoners died on the very first day of vaccination. A few more inmates killed in the next few weeks.
Still, Kuljama considered this experiment a success, and shortly after that, a thousand people were injected with this vaccine in the infected areas.
In the world of medicine, this vaccine was considered to be the most successful.
Although later long-term assessment said that it was successful only in 50 percent of cases, saving 50 percent of lives during an epidemic would also be considered an achievement.
Haffkine continued to experiment with this vaccine throughout the country for the next few years.
Still, during this time, an incident occurred in Mulkowal, a village in Punjab, which is called Mulkowal disaster in the history of vaccination.
On October 30, 1902, 107 people were given this vaccine in this village. A few days later, symptoms of tetanus were found in 19 of them, and soon they all died.
The blame came on Haffkine, and they were sacked in murder charge.
This news spread so much that it even arose in Britain’s House of Commons.
Desperate Haffkine returned to Paris and, from there, continued to defend himself with letters. Upon further investigation, it was found that it was not his fault.
One of his assistants had put a dirty lid on the vaccine bottle, which caused the problem. After this, Haffkine returned to India, but this time he was made director of the Biological Laboratory of Kolkata.
There was no system of vaccine research and production in this laboratory. Perhaps Mulkowal’s accusations did not leave him.
Haffkine can become an inspiration.
It is said that during this period, he was influenced by the non-violence of Jainism, and he completely stopped the use of animals and birds.
In his journals, noted bacteriologist William Baloch has written that in his last days in Kolkata, Haffkine became furious about such things.
It is said that he once scolded one of his colleagues too much just because he was dissecting a tapeworm.
Amidst these circumstances, in 1915, when he turned 55, he was retired, and he returned to Europe.
Three years later, India remembered him once when the Spanish flu epidemic developed, but this time Haffkine was not available.
Away from science, he was now trying to live his life according to Jewish religious beliefs, about which he wrote an article- ‘Plea for Orthodoxy’ – that is, the logic of prejudice.
Some people even called him ‘Mahatma Haffkine ‘ for his successes. A book was also published on him with the same title. In 1925, his laboratory at Grant Hospital was renamed the Haffkine Institute.
In 1964, the Indian Postal Department also issued a stamp on him. At the moment when scientists from all over the world are trying to find the COVID-19 vaccine, Haffkine may be an inspiration for them.