RTL Today – Fact Check: Vaccine certificate shared online dates from 1906, historians say


Historians claim the document, written mostly in Ottoman Turkish, dates from 1906 – and is not the world’s oldest vaccine certificate.

A photo of a vaccine certificate has been shared hundreds of times in several posts on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, along with a claim that it shows the “world’s oldest vaccine certificate” which was issued in 1721 under the Ottoman Empire. However, the claim is false.

“The oldest vaccine certificate of the world year 1721,” we read on Facebook in the Indonesian language, dated September 15, 2021.

The message shows an image of a document with text in French reading “Certificate of vaccine” while the rest is written in Ottoman Turkish.

Below the image, there is a text in Indonesian which reads: “The oldest vaccine certificate in the world, year 1721 AD. Issued by the Turkish Ottoman Islamic Caliphate. Vaccines are part of an advanced Islamic civilization.”

The Ottoman Empire ruled over many parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa for more than six centuries before the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

The same photo has been shared over 830 times after it appeared with a similar claim on Facebook here, here and here; on Twitter here, here and here; and on TikTok here.

However, the claim is false.

Various experts have said that the vaccine certificate was issued in 1906, not 1721, as the misleading publications claim.

Benjamin Fortna, professor of history and director of the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona, said the year at the bottom of the certificate is 1906. in the Gregorian calendar.

“The date shown at the end of the document is August 27, 1322, which is given in the Rumi (Ottoman administrative solar) calendar,” he told AFP, adding that he had used the calendar conversion into line provided by the Turkish Historical Society (Turk Tarih Kurumu).

“What is clear is that the document dates from 1906,” he said.

Renee Worringer, associate professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern history at the University of Guelph in Canada and author of the book A Brief History of the Ottoman Empire, also told AFP that the year at the bottom of the certificate was 1322, which “most likely” corresponds to 1906 in the Gregorian calendar.

Nukhet Varlik, associate professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey and author of the book “Plague and Empire in the Early Modern Mediterranean World: The Ottoman Experience, 1347-1600”, agreed that the date of the Gregorian calendar was 1906 .

Text on the certificate said it was issued to a 22-year-old Greek Orthodox man from Istanbul who received his third vaccine, although it did not mention which vaccine he received, she said.

“We know that many different vaccines against infectious diseases (eg smallpox, plague, cholera, typhus, rabies, etc.) were given” at the time, Varlik said.

She said the vaccine certificate was “certainly not the oldest in the world” and pointed to a study that highlighted examples of Ottoman vaccination records from 1903.

The Jewish Museum in Berlin said the oldest vaccination certificate in its archives was a “smallpox vaccination certificate” issued in 1844 to a man born in present-day Czech Republic.

AFP Fact Check previously debunked a misleading claim that the world’s first vaccine was developed under the Ottoman Empire.

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