With the outbreak of Covid-19, writers have been revisiting similar pandemics from the past, especially the Spanish flu of 1918-20 which infected 500 million people. Early missionaries to Thailand were no strangers to such pandemics either as smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, and malaria ravaged the country from time to time. In 1873 Bangkok was losing 260 deaths/day to cholera and in 1849 a cholera epidemic killed 20,000 Thai. In the 1950s malaria was claiming up to 30,000 Thai every year but thankfully is down to around only 10 per year today. Smallpox was also quite persistent in Thailand in the years 1911-12 with over 2,000 dying in Bangkok out of a population of 600,000. At the end of World War 2, there was another outbreak with 62,000 cases and 15,000 deaths before being eliminated in 1962.
What is not well known is that Dr. Mo Bradley (1804-1873) was the first to produce a successful vaccination for smallpox in Thailand. His interest was heightened by the death of his own eight-month-old daughter, Harriet. Dr. Bradley received trial vaccines from Boston, but none were successful. He solved this problem by using the inoculation technique, which proved so helpful that the Thai royal court called on Bradley to vaccinate all their children as well as many Thai nationals and slaves. Just as we show appreciation to the first responders and researchers who are seeking to combat Covid-19, it is fitting once again to remember pioneer medical workers like Dr. Bradley who helped stopped the pandemics of their day with much less technology to aid them.