Oldest vacinee
GREAT GRANDMA: Filipina short-story writer Clarita Antiado Abraham, 93, who has 36 grandchildren and has more than a dozen great grandchildren first got vaccinated in the 1940s for smallpox. She didn't need much convincing to get COVID jabs. Image Credit: Facebook

Bicol, Philippines: Clarita Antiado Abraham, 93, is a happy, contented grandma, despite being bed-ridden. She’s now fully vaccinated. Affectionately known as “Lola Claring”, her life revolves around her eight children and 36 grandchildren, plus more a dozen great-grandchildren.

What convinced her to vaccinate?

“She’s a brave cookie,” said her daughter Gina Abraham, referring to Lola Claring’s completion of the COVID-19 shots. “She’s convinced by the science...but perhaps her past experience with vaccines going back to the 1940s swayed her, too.”

Lola Claring
Lola Claring's vaccination card.

No second thoughts

“When we told her that COVID-19 vaccinations would start with the elderly and people with co-morbidities, she didn’t need much convincing. She’s one of the first among the elderly people in our town who completed two doses,” said Gina.

Lola Claring turned 93 on September 28. She's the oldest vacinee in her town in this eastern region of the archipelago. These days, though, she’s confined to her bed. Due to age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), she communicates with her children by chatting on her Amazon tablet, with the text enlarged.

All her professional life, she worked as a clerk in her small remote bicol town until retirement. She is attended by Ludy, her full-time minder, under the supervision of Gina, a nurse, who lives nearby.

Gina’s eldest daughter Fiona, also a nurse, lives upstairs from her grandmother's room. Two of Lola Claring’s grand-daughters are also medical doctors, though they live and work in the frontlines out of town.

Lola Claring’s memory remains vivid.

“When I learned that the vaccinations will start, I didn’t hesitate to go,” Clarita told Gulf News on a rainy October day. “My grandfather died of cholera in the late 1890s, according to my parents. There were no vaccines then.”

She also recalled a period when, during her younger years, smallpox outbreaks were common.

Her first vaccine

“My first vaccine was against smallpox, in the 1940s. All the children in my class were vaccinated then. I remember, when my mother also had smallpox after getting the shot, it wasn’t so bad… it left her with only one scar in the forehead — nothing more. Before that, smallpox was really bad, someone afflicted would be full of sores. It was common to see people many facial scars from smallpox. Smallpox is gone. I wonder why children are the last to get the COVID vaccines now…”

Smallpox vaccine
The basis for vaccination began in 1796 when the English doctor Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox were protected from smallpox.

Active on Facebook

“I was eager to be vaccinated because I believe this would help people avoid getting infected with this dreaded disease,” she stated in a mix of Bicol sprinkled with English. “I believe the reason it’s given to people is to avoid transmission.”

The Bicol language is spoken by about 4 million in the fertile, gold-rich eastern Philippine region, spread over an area of more than 18,000 sq km, about 4-1/2 times Dubai’s land area.

Lola Claring recalled that after her shots — two doses of Sinovac administered four weeks apart (first jab on May 24, 2021 and the second, on June 23) — no adverse reactions emerged. WHO approved Sinovac on June 1, 2021. If booster shots were available, Lola Claring said she'd grab them too.


“People talk about and spread scary stories about so-called side effects. I felt nothing like that, no adverse reactions at all. I wonder why many people are afraid of being vaccinated, since COVID causes more trouble than the vaccination itself,” she said.

“I think, based on my experience with smallpox, this pandemic won’t be over if people continue with their hesitancy, or defiance, exposing themselves and others to risk that’s also potentially deadly, but is totally avoidable now with vaccines available.”

She, however, has some misgivings about the vaccine schedule.

Suggestion: 'Children should be prioritised, too'

“I am thankful that I am one of those prioritised,” she said. “It is just that I think children should also be prioritised.”

Another thing that frustrates her: “Even if my children are already vaccinated themselves, they’re still afraid to come close to me most of the time, because they are always out and about. That’s why I want everyone to be vaccinated so this pandemic would soon come to an end.”

Lola Claring
Local health workers came to Lola Claring’s house to administer her second dose of Sinovac COVID-19 shot on June 23, at home. “After completing my two doses, I did not feel any adverse reactions at all. I wonder why many people are afraid of being vaccinated, since COVID causes more trouble than the vaccination itself.”

Through her Amazon tablet, "Lola Claring” is still able to communicate and send messages to her children — two of her daughters and a number of grandchildren live in North America.

Lola Claring is perhaps one of the Philippines’ most prolific story tellers of her generation. With a collection of nearly 200 short stories, she has shared insightful musings about life, love and the greatly textured traditions in rural Philippines. Over the years, she had published her stories in local magazines and newspapers. She still actively posts her stories on Facebook, albeit with the aid of her minder and daughters posting though her tablet.

Lola Claring
Lola Claring with her five daughters (Clockwise from top right): Jimma, Clarissa, Cieleto, Daisy Veronica and Gina. Image Credit: Supplied

This extraordinary grandma has an infectious positive outlook in life. Despite her hearing difficulty and blurry vision, Lola Claring commands a cheerful disposition.

“I’ve lost my sense of hearing. My vision is blurry, and I’m unable to move (without someone’s help). But thankfully, my mind is (still) very clear… I’m happy with that,” she concluded.

Memoirs of a Barrio Girl, a collection of dozens of Clarita Antiado Abraham’s short stories, is also available in digital book form, for free download on Apple’s iBooks. (Disclosure: This writer helped edit this collection).

Smallpox eradicated
Early symptoms of smallpox include high fever, fatigue and severe back pain, and less often, abdominal pain and vomiting.

In 1980, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated. It's the only infectious disease to have been official eradicated.