The History of Vaccines Blog

Vaccine Disaster in Syria: Historical Precedents

Diphtheria AT, 1920s, Lederle The news of infant deaths on September 16 in northern Syria from measles vaccination is heartbreaking. Shortly after vaccination, the children became limp and unresponsive: those most severely affected died before reaching hospital. Seventy-five children were affected, and fifteen died. The World Health Organization is investigating the incident. The first reports couldn't identify the problem and speculated that the vaccine had spoiled or that it had been tampered with. The latest reports state that atracurium, a neuromuscular blocking agent used in procedures like intubation, was used as a diluent for measles vaccine, rather than the standard water-based diluent. More

Calling the Shots: NOVA Documentary

Dr. Offit and Iron Lung, Independence Mall, 2012 Tonight be sure to watch or record "Vaccines: Calling the Shots," the latest installment of NOVA on PBS. This documentary looks at parental attitudes toward vaccination and their influences on disease spread. Check your local listings -- here in the Philadelphia area it's scheduled for 10 pm, but in other areas it's scheduled at 9 pm Eastern. Additionally, there's the matter of the President's televised address at 9 pm Eastern, which is likely to push the broadcast later. We here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia were lucky enough to host award-winning filmmaker Sonya Pemberton (who wrote/produced/directed the film)--and her crew in 2012, when they were filming segments of the documentary. A version aired in 2013 as 90-minute film titled "Jabbed: Love, Fear, and Vaccines."   More

My Life As A Polio Survivor

Karen Chase (photo courtesy of the author) I was a sprouting ten-year-old girl in Westchester County, right outside of New York City, and all was well. I’d hop on my bike and help my older brother deliver newspapers up and down the streets of my town. I’d swim in Long Island Sound, a short bike-ride from our house. And I had a new baby sister! I was in fifth grade. One day while walking home from school for lunch, kicking a stone down the road, my legs began to hurt. After a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and glass of cold milk, I said, “Mom, I can’t go back to school today.” My neck got stiff, my fever rose alarmingly, and what started as small pains turned into large ones. The doctor came and soon I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, diagnosed with polio. More

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A Scab Story

Man with smallpox, early 1900s, The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Today's blog post is by Robert D. Hicks, PhD, Director, Mütter Museum/Historical Medical Library, William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The World Health Organization has been debating the future of smallpox. The debate concerns what to do with existing stocks of infectious smallpox virus given its eradication from the planet decades ago, one of the most significant public health achievements ever. Assuming a method could be devised to dispose of these smallpox stocks safely to avoid their being used as a terrorist weapon, can we be assured that all of it has been destroyed? Is destruction a good thing, since future technologies may be able to elicit from virus samples answers to fundamental questions about epidemic diseases, their origins, evolution, and treatment? What if possibly infectious samples of smallpox still exist . . . in museums and libraries? More

Brad Pitt Takes on the Zombie Virus

Drexel zombies from blogs.CDC.gov Many thanks to my great high school interns Arkiea and Mercedes for writing this review and summary of World War Z. When I first heard about World War Z I thought “ugh, another zombie movie.” It was a movie that I did not want to see because honestly I hate zombie movies. Almost all zombie movies have the same plot where it's people awakening from their grave to become a brain-eating zombie. Not that I’m against that, it’s just I did not want to sit through another movie that’s two hours long for eleven dollars just so I can predict the outcome. So, I decided to avoid World War Z at all costs, meaning that I stayed home on a Saturday night while my dad and sister went to the movies. Three hours later my sister returns home and she tries to persuade me to see the movie but because of my stubbornness and utter dislike for zombies, I tell her no. After months of listening to my sister rant about the movie, I finally decide it would be in our best interests if I saw the movie. More

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A Physician's Duty: Serving in Pestilence and in War

Plaque at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Today's blog post is by College Librarian Beth Lander, MLS. “To the memory of Fellows of The College who have fallen whilst in performance of duty during pestilence or war” begins a plaque hanging near our Historical Medical Library. The memorial not only offers a gentle reminder of the sacrifices made by physicians in the care of their patients, but also is a reminder of how closely mortality hovered prior to the age of vaccines. The summer of 1793 was unusually hot and dry. Wells and creeks were low, and the people of Philadelphia were plagued by flies and other pests. By mid-August, people in Philadelphia fell ill with symptoms similar to an outbreak of fever that Benjamin Rush, a founder of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, had witnessed in 1762: “These patients were generally seized with rigors, which were succeeded with a violent fever and pains in the head and back. The pulse was full, and sometimes irregular. The eyes were inflamed, and had a yellow cast, and vomiting almost always attended. The third, fifth, and seventh days were mostly critical, and the disease generally terminated in one of them, in life or death. An eruption on the third or seventh day over the body, proved salutary. An excessive heat, and burning about the region of the liver, with cold extremities, portended death to be at hand” More

Barre-Sinoussi Speaks on Past, Future of HIV Epidemic

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi; courtesy Darien Sutton/The Wistar Institute In 1982, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was a young researcher in Luc Montagnier’s lab at the Pasteur Institute, studying the control of retroviruses by their hosts. Late that year, a French virologist made an urgent request to her lab:  would they look for signs of retroviral infection in a group of patients with a troubling new disease? As she says in her 2008 Nobel Prize biographical sketch, “It would have been a relatively routine procedure to detect the presence of a retrovirus” in cells. That statement is excessively modest, because, in fact, the task was not easy and rested on decades of earlier work. One immediate problem was that the unidentified pathogen, obtained from a patient’s lymph node biopsy, threatened to outrun the cells in culture. But once she thought to add more lymphocytes to keep up with the infection cycle, Barré-Sinoussi wrote that “isolation, amplification and characterisation of the virus rapidly ensued, and the first report was published in Science in May 1983.” More

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Children, Conflict, and Polio

National Library of Medicine, 101579926. WWI Red Cross Nurse The sight of a red cross or crescent on a white background is supposed to signal medical aid, neutrality, and safety. In conflicts around the world, however, hostile actors are flouting decades of protocol and the Geneva convention itself: they are killing and kidnapping Red Cross, Red Crescent, and other emergency aid workers. Al Qaeda-associated militants kidnapped an International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) team in Mali in February this year (military forces freed them about a week later). ICRC polio vaccination workers and staff were killed in Afghanistan in April 2014. Polio vaccinators and their guards have been killed in Pakistan and Nigeria as well. More

NFID Vaccine Research Conference: Challenges in Immunization Policy

Bordetella pertussis, CDC A Monday afternoon session at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research was entitled “Current Challenges in Immunization Policy.” The topics ranged from vaccine hesitancy, effectiveness of acellular pertussis vaccine, and the burden of adverse events from rotavirus vaccination. Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, of the Emory Vaccine Center, is widely published on vaccine refusal and its consequences in relation to disease. Most of the work he presented Monday explored the relationship between vaccine hesitancy and pertussis incidence.  More

Sixtieth Anniversary for Polio Pioneers

Card from the 1954 Salk vaccine trial, courtesy Marsha Drake Sixty years ago tomorrow the largest clinical trial in history began. On April 26, 1954, thousands of U.S. schoolchildren rolled up their sleeves to take Jonas Salk’s inactivated poliovirus vaccine. Newspapers reported that Randall Kerr of McClean, Virginia, was the first child in the trial to get the vaccine. (Thousands of others in earlier stages of research had received the vaccine, including Salk’s wife and children.) The 1954 trial was blinded, meaning that the children didn’t know whether they received the vaccine or a saline placebo injection. Regardless, most viewed themselves if not exactly as test subjects (which they certainly were) but as Polio Pioneers, as they and their parents were encouraged to think of them. More

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