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Antonio Prieto

Commemorative medal of the Balmis operation to recognize the personnel participating in the fight against COVID-19

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Royal Decree 701/2020, of July 28

Commemorative medal of the Balmis operation to recognize the personnel participating in the fight against COVID-19.


Royal Decree 1040/2003, of August 1, which approves the General Regulation of military rewards, in its third additional provision authorizes the creation, by royal decree, of commemorative medals and campaign medals to commemorate events of relevant significance for the Armed Forces or for the Homeland, as well as to highlight the participation of civilian or military personnel in certain military operations and campaigns, as recognition of the commemorative event or of participation in operations and campaigns.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization defined the public health emergency situation caused by COVID-19 as an international pandemic. The rapid evolution of events, at the national and international levels, has required the adoption of immediate and effective measures to face an unprecedented health crisis, among which is the intervention of the Armed Forces, within the framework of the "Operation Balmis".

"Operation Balmis" has consisted of the integration of the operational, health, logistics, military police and infrastructure capacities belonging to the Military Emergency Unit, the General Health Inspection, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, made available to the competent authorities. The operation was activated from the declaration of the state of alarm decreed by the Government on March 14.

This operation is part of the actions aimed at protecting the health and safety of citizens, containing the progression of the disease and strengthening the public health system in the national territory with the ultimate goal of saving lives. In it, the Armed Forces have mobilized in support of the civil authorities in the fight against the pandemic, carrying out presence missions by numerous points of the national geography, support for the State Security Forces and Corps, the disinfection of critical infrastructures, ports, airports, stations, hospital facilities, health centers, nursing homes, police facilities, essential public services, setting up of field hospitals, transportation of the deceased and the production of medical devices.

As a consequence of the foregoing, it has been determined the advisability of creating a national medal that recognizes the participation of the personnel of the Armed Forces and civilian personnel assigned to the Ministry of Defense that has intervened in the fight against COVID-19, forming part of "Operation Balmis".

The origin of the decorations lies in the need for any organized society to recognize and reward outstanding and worthy events done for their benefit. At the dawn of the 19th century, on May 17, 1829, the "epidemic distinction cross" was created, with the aim of rewarding the military surgeon Carlos Luis Benoit for his extraordinary and meritorious services during the Asian morbid epidemic that it devastated Manila in 1820. Likewise, this individual decoration was the basis of the civilian crosses of epidemics awarded in 1828 in the Gibraltar epidemic, in the 1838 and in the 1885 epidemic by the cholera of Zaragoza, to health, civil and military personnel that they provided their service in epidemic situations for which there were no vaccines, as is the current situation. Among the criteria that were included for its concession are the declaration of a contagious or epidemic situation, the existence of a mandate or invitation from the authority, the assistance without distinction of rich or poor and the active and effective cooperation provided.

The name of the operation is a tribute to the military doctor Francisco Javier Balmis (1753-1819). The military scientist and surgeon Balmis stood out for his military career, participating in the 1780s in different campaigns with the Zamora Infantry Regiment, one of those assigned to the siege of Gibraltar during the War of Independence of the United States of America, war in the one that also participated in the American continent. There he developed his scientific work, especially through the study of botany, and indigenous plants with medicinal virtues and introducing new species in the Botanical Garden of Madrid. In the 1790s he began to be recognized for its scientific dimension, in addition to the military one, and as a physician and prominent paradigm of the enlightened of the moment, he was appointed honorary chamber surgeon of Carlos IV and dedicated himself to the dissemination of the vaccine against smallpox, discovered in 1796 by Edward Jenner.

Confident in the possibility of being able to eradicate a disease that caused death to about 20 percent of the population, Balmis proposed to the monarch to take the vaccine to his dominions in America, a project that was submitted and approved by the Board of Chamber Surgeons. This gave the green light to the Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition, whose direction was entrusted to its promoter. The port chosen for the departure was that of La Coruña and the means of transport, the corvette María Pita. Balmis was accompanied by the Catalan military surgeon José Salvany, deputy director of the company, two practitioners, three nurses, 22 children from the foundling house of the Galician capital, to inoculate and keep the vaccine during navigation, and, finally, the rector of the house, Isabel Zendal, to take care of them. The latter is considered the first female nurse to participate in an international military operation.

The expedition, developed between 1803 and 1806, and led by the military doctor, enjoyed the military character impregnated by Balmis, and was characterized by seeking constant cooperation with the local authorities involved. The populations of the Canary Islands, America, the Philippines, Macao, Canton and Santa Elena Island were immunized, constituting one of the most important feats promoting public health and health education in the international arena.

This royal decree complies with the principles of necessity and effectiveness that are justified by a reason of general interest based on recognition of the effective and prompt action of personal and material means assigned to the Ministry of Defense to fight the pandemic, and with the The principle of legal certainty as it is included in the framework of the premium law and, moreover, it complies with the principle of efficiency, since it does not imply any administrative burden. Regarding the principle of proportionality, it has the essential content to generate recognition of the actions of civilian and military personnel who have intervened in the creation and maintenance of "Operation Balmis" and, as regards the principle of transparency, is drafted in simple language and access to citizens is facilitated by publication in the "Official State Gazette".

By virtue, in accordance with the provisions of article 149.1.4.ª of the Spanish Constitution, at the proposal of the Minister of Defense and after deliberation by the Council of Ministers at its meeting on July 28, 2020,


Single article. Creation of the commemorative medal of «Operation Balmis».

1. The commemorative medal of "Operation Balmis" is created to recognize the personnel of the Armed Forces and civilian personnel assigned to the Ministry of Defense who have participated in the fight against COVID-19, within the framework of said operation.

2. By order of the Minister of Defense, all those aspects related to the procedure for the award of the medal, the description of the corresponding decoration and the measures that are necessary for its processing and annotation will be determined.

Single additional provision. Extraordinary concession.

This medal may be awarded, on an extraordinary and exceptional basis, to personnel not included in the scope of this royal decree who have participated with the Armed Forces in "Operation Balmis".

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  • Blog Comments

    • Brian, Thanks for initiating this discussion. For me, it’s a combination of the thrill of the chase, the history behind the item, and the aesthetics, although this latter factor may seem a bit strange to some. To illustrate this, the very first thing I collected as a kid in the 1950’s was a Belgian WW1 medal, for service in 1914-18, which is bell shaped, with a very striking profile of a very dignified soldier, wearing an Adrian helmet which bears a laurel wreath. It was the image that
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