The History of Vaccines Blog

Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine

3-D representation of influenza virion, CDC/Doug Jordan. Photo credit Dan Higgins It has been a little more than 100 years since the discovery of viruses by Martinus Beijerinck. In that time, more than 5,000 different viruses have been discovered and studied. One of those viruses, influenza, has been a scourge to humanity even before we knew it existed. Influenza has caused local epidemics and worldwide pandemics since well before it was discovered. Between 1918 and 1919, influenza killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide, more than the World War occurring at the time. At the time of the 1918 pandemic, it was believed that the disease was caused by other agents, like the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the influenza virus was discovered and grown in chicken eggs. In the 1940s, an influenza vaccine was developed and used widely on soldiers during World War II. More

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Epidemiologist Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia What do you think about when someone mentions Benjamin Franklin? Do you think of the statesman, the inventor, the man with the kite in the thunderstorm, or the first Postmaster General? Among his many activities and accomplishments, Benjamin Franklin also managed to include a little bit of epidemiology when he wrote the introduction to a pamphlet about variolation in 1759. Epidemiology is the study of “that which comes upon the people.” Two forms of epidemiology are descriptive epidemiology and analytical epidemiology. Analytical epidemiology is done through the use of statistics to research diseases and interventions based on the observations done through descriptive epidemiology. Franklin performed descriptive epidemiology in showing the number of cases of smallpox, the number of deaths attributable to smallpox, and similar descriptive numbers of people who received variolation in colonial Boston. More

Philadelphia Study Examines Varicella and Herpes Zoster

Chickenpox lesions on back. Wellcome Collection, London. Varicella, or chickenpox, used to be a common childhood infection. Today’s grandparents and most parents can describe vividly what it was like to have chickenpox or to care for a child with this viral illness. Since the broad use of varicella vaccine, the number of cases in the United States has dropped dramatically. Even infants under the age of 6 months who are too young to get the vaccine have had a 90% drop in their rate of chickenpox since the introduction and widespread use of varicella vaccine. But chickenpox has not completely disappeared.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a city that requires evidence of varicella immunization to attend school (with certain exceptions) and maintains a vigorous surveillance of students attending school to see who has developed chickenpox. This tracking allows public health authorities to see the pattern of spread of chickenpox. A study published in the May 1 edition of the Journal of Infectious Diseases examined varicella cases over a 7-year period, during which about 2300 cases of varicella were seen in Philadelphia public school students. More

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The Modern American Vaccine Debate 4/24

The History of Vaccines invites you to attend The Wistar Institute Authors Series program “The Modern American Vaccine Debate.” The event will be held Tuesday, April 24, at 6:30 pm at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. It is presented as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Panelists include Paul Offit, MD, Mark Largent, PhD, Hildegund Ertl, MD, and Jason Schwartz, MBE. The event is free, but registration is required. We hope to see you there – the History of Vaccines will be exhibiting at the event. More

Adenovirus Vaccines Reinstated After Long Absence

Adenovirus 3, 4, 7 vaccine, 1958. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Eighteen years after the sole manufacturer of adenovirus vaccine announced its discontinuation, adenovirus type 7 and type 4 vaccines are once again available for U.S. military trainees. The adenovirus vaccination program resumed in October 2011, with enlisted soldiers receiving the vaccine during basic training. The re-licensure of the vaccine required significant investment by the U.S. government and long years of testing and regulatory review, during which rates of adenovirus illness in the military rose. The history of the vaccine’s disappearance illustrates the precarious position of some of our lesser-used vaccines. More

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What’s in a Name? Or, Will Vaccination Turn Your Children into Cows?

Gillray, 1802. National Library of Medicine When we think of vaccine, we think of injections. But when 18th century medical men thought of vaccine, they thought of cows. That’s because “vaccinae” is Latin for “of or pertaining to cows”, and the word entered the modern medical lexicon through the title of the famous 1798 work by Edward Jenner, “An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae, a Disease discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, particularly Gloucestershire, and known by the name of the Cow-Pox.”

Many generations of admiring doctors and historians have noted this title without observing that Jenner was engaged in a bit of sleight of hand. The disease he described was, indeed known as the Cow Pox by those who had bothered to give it a name: the dairymaids and farmers who were most susceptible to it. The disease, as he noted, appears on the nipples of cows, and then is communicated to the dairymaids, and then “through the farm, until most of the cattle and domestics feel its unpleasant consequences”. It was Jenner, perhaps after consultation with his medical mentors, like John Hunter, who gave it the Latin name, starting with Variolae – the Latin medical term for smallpox  -- and adding to it the designation Vaccinae – of or from cows. More

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World TB Day: Looking to the International Tuberculosis Campaign

TB Ward, Turkey, 1890s, Library of Congress In June 2010 we ran a blog post about the International Tuberculosis Campaign, a post-WWII effort that TB tested and vaccinated tens of millions of people in 23 countries. The tenor of the campaign was optimistic and heroic, evident in this 1948 radio announcement from the president of the Danish Red Cross: “The spirit of the Nordic Vikings has been part of this campaign as in the old days. Earlier we went out sword in hand to conquer and fight each other. Today we go out together with the needles as our only weapon to fight the scourge of the Second World War: tuberculosis” (Brimnes 2007). Despite the wide reach of that promising campaign, tuberculosis today is an enormous global problem, with 1.4 million deaths from the disease and 9 million new cases a year. The disease orphans millions of children and robs individuals and communities of vital earning capacity. Worryingly, each year more than 500,000 cases of multidrug-resistant TB occur, and in December 2011 several cases of completely drug resistant TB were reported in India. Emergence of resistant strains of TB highlights the need for effective TB vaccines to try to prevent infection entirely. More

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The Anti-Vaccination Society of America: Correspondence

Anti-vaccination handout, no date. The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia We set ourselves the task yesterday of examining a set of materials in the College’s Historical Medical Library from the Anti-Vaccination Society of America. This organization was active in the late 1800s and early 1900s, along with a collection of other anti-vaccination leagues of somewhat confusing overlap and origin. The materials we have seem to come from the period that the society was active from the Terre Haute, Indiana, home of Frank D. Blue. Blue served as secretary of the society and seems to have been responsible for much of its day-to-day activity, including editing the society’s periodical, Vaccination. The society’s president at the time, L.H. Piehn, was a Nora Springs, Iowa, banker whose daughter was reported to have died from the effects of smallpox vaccination in 1894. Blue corresponded widely with other anti-vaccination societies, including the American Anti-Vaccination League in New York and societies in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, and England. Moreover, he seems to have been involved with a collection of other reform groups active at the time, including anti-vivisectionists (who often objected to the idea that rabies was an infectious disease), temperance advocates, vegetarians, homeopaths, phrenologists, “scientific palmists,” and a society for the prevention of premature burial (that latter was a particular interest of British anti-vaccinator William Tebb). More

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Bird Flu Research to Be Published in Full

Influenza ward, U.S. Army, Base Hospital No.88, Langres, France. 1918 or 1919, NLM. Recent furor around research on the H5N1 virus strain that has caused influenza in birds and rare cases of severe influenza in people may have died down for the time being after last week’s meeting of a group of experts assembled by the World Health Organization. They recommended that two different groups involved in what has come to be seen as controversial research should publish their findings in full. A halt on the bird flu research in question and publication of those data is still in place, however, and will likely last a few months longer.

To date, this H5N1 virus is not efficiently transmissible among humans – in fact, humans generally have been infected only after close contact with infected poultry. But virologist Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam manipulated the virus so that it became easily transmissible between ferrets via airborne droplets. (Ferrets are a useful standin for humans in influenza studies.) A team headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Madison-Wisconsin accomplished similar results: both papers were under review for publication by science journals before the controversy developed. More

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Dateline: Edinburgh, 1802

Pox and the City. Courtesy Lisa Rosner We were pleased to see Lisa Rosner, PhD, in the Historical Medical Library here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia the other day. Rosner, who is professor of history at Stockton College as well as an advisor to History of Vaccines, is the recipient of an NEH grant in the digital humanities to develop a role-playing game about early smallpox vaccination in Scotland. She was in the library finding great materials for the game, and we’re looking forward to playing it and promoting it when it’s completed. Keep an eye on her blog to read about the progress her team is making on the game. You can also follow her on Twitter to enjoy her musings on the history of medicine and her book The Anatomy Murders. The post below is reproduced from her blog with her permission.

Imagine a world in which there are no antibiotics, no routine medical checkups, no blood tests, and no sterile surgery. Imagine a world in which people are surrounded by deadly microbes, with no way to hold them in check. And now imagine that there exists one, and only one, proven vaccine: the vaccine for smallpox. The trouble is, that vaccine is very new and largely untested.

Now imagine that you live in Edinburgh in 1802. A young doctor in the city, Alexander Robertson, is trying to set up a vaccination dispensary, to protect people from the deadly smallpox virus while establish a paying medical practice. More