The History of Vaccines Blog

Just Posted: Interview with Paul Offit, MD

Paul Offit, MD, discussing rotavirus disease in a patient We recently interviewed Paul A. Offit, MD, about his experience developing a rotavirus vaccine. His vaccine, known generically as rotavirus oral vaccine (commercially as RotaTeq), has been part of the recommended childhood immunization schedule since 2006. In the interview, Offit discusses an experience with rotavirus disease as a young physician, working with Stanley Plotkin, MD (developer of the rubella vaccine), the long process of creating the rotavirus vaccine, and the relief and pride involved in receiving encouraging safety results from post-licensure monitoring. He also discusses, more generally, how a researcher goes about developing a new vaccine.

Click the picture to see one of the interview segments in The History of Vaccines Gallery. See the entire set of Offit interview segments by searching for “Offit” in The History of Vaccines search box and clicking the Media tab to access all six video clips.

Dr. Offit is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. More

POX: Michael Willrich in Philadelphia May 12

Join us for a fascinating evening of medical, social, and legal history on May 12 at 6:30 pm, when Michael Willrich, PhD, discusses his book POX: An American History (The Penguin Press),  which offers a gripping chronicle of how the nation's continent-wide fight against smallpox in the early 1900s launched one of the most important civil liberties struggles of the twentieth century. Willrich explores the intersection of public health initiatives and private medical decisions as well as the polarizing debate about the morality, ethics, safety, and effectiveness of vaccines. The measures enacted to contain the disease--- quarantines, pesthouses, and "virus squads"--- sparked a wave of popular resistance among Americans who perceived them as a threat to their health and to their rights. More

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National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Measles

U.S. measles cases dropped rapidly after vaccine use became widespread in the 1960s. (Click for full size.) National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog features posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Rubeola, or measles (as it's more commonly known) is an extremely contagious viral disease. It causes a distinctive rash, fever that can reach 104°F or higher, runny nose, and cough, and has many potential complications including ear infection (in about 10% of cases) and pneumonia (about 5% of cases). In about one in a thousand cases, the patient develops encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. About one out of every thousand patients will die.

The rubeola virus spreads easily and rapidly via coughs and sneezes, and remains active and infectious in the air for up to two hours. As a result, a person can become infected just by breathing the air in a room that was occupied by a measles patient as much as two hours earlier. There is no treatment for the disease, although supportive care may be provided, and efforts may be made to lower the patient's fever. More

National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Rotavirus and Pertussis

Transmission electron micrograph of intact rotavirus particles. National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog features posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Although its name is not as well known as those of diseases like chickenpox or measles, rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children and infants worldwide. Before a vaccine was introduced in the United States, the disease caused more than 400,000 doctor's visits and 200,000 emergency room visits each year, causing as many as 60 deaths annually in U.S. children younger than five.

The virus spreads easily among children, and can also be passed from children to those with whom they're in close contact. Rotavirus spreads via the fecal-oral route -- that is, from the waste of an infected person to the mouth of another individual. This can occur via contamination on hands or objects like toys.

Rotavirus can be prevented by vaccination. The first dose of the vaccine series is recommended at two months of age. More

National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Polio

Polio in the U.S., 1910. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia In honor of National Infant Immunization Week (April 23-30), we’re highlighting diseaseson our blog  this week that are preventable by vaccination of infants. Polio is one of these diseases, and it has a remarkable background: it was scarcely visible through much of human history, was epidemic from the early- to mid-20th century, and is nearly eradicated today. The development of the polio vaccine was an important U.S. cultural phenomenon, involving the monetary contributions of millions of citizens, scientific breakthroughs by medical researchers, and the largest clinical trial ever conducted.

Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century than polio did. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives. More

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National Infant Immunization Week: Spotlight on Diphtheria

Diphtheria is still endemic in these countries. (Click on the image to view it at full size.) National Infant Immunization Week is April 23-30 this year. This week, the History of Vaccines blog will feature posts about several diseases that can be prevented by vaccination of infants.

Diphtheria, now nearly unknown in the United States, was once a common childhood affliction. In 1921 the country recorded more than 200,000 cases and more than 15,000 deaths, with the highest percentage of fatal cases among children younger than five. Although the last recorded case in the United States was in 2003, diphtheria remains endemic in many countries.

The disease is caused by a bacterium, Corynebacterium diphtheria, although the actual damage is not done by the bacterium itself. Instead, it secretes a toxin that damages the body's tissues. The most unique symptom of diphtheria is a thick gray substance that can spread over the nasal tissues, tonsils, larynx, and/or pharynx. This substance, called a pseudomembrane, can block the airways; in fact, diphtheria was known in Spain as "el garatillo" -- "the strangler." The toxin produced by the bacterium can also travel through the bloodsteam and damage other organs. More

History of Vaccines Wins Awards

In mid-April, The History of Vaccines was awarded two prestigious honors. First, the Webby Awards: Along with sites from National Geographic, the Exploratorium, NOVA, and Columbia University's Earth Institute, The History of Vaccines was selected as an honoree in the Science category of the Webby Awards. Colloquially known as "The Oscars of the Internet," the Webby Awards are the best-known honor for websites, presented annually by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. Fewer than 15% of entries for Webby Awards were selected as honorees. More

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Baruch Blumberg, Nobel Laureate, Pioneer of Hepatitis B Research, Dies at 85

In the 1960s, a medical doctor was interested in studying the influence that a person’s genes could have on susceptibility to disease, with an eye toward developing personalized medicine. By identifying individuals at high risk for a disease and studying environmental factors that interacted with their particular genetic variations, he hoped, researchers could develop approaches that at-risk individuals could use to prevent them from getting sick.

 With colleagues, he traveled across the globe collecting blood samples from different populations. One set of samples produced a curious reaction: antibodies in the blood from a New York City hemophilia patient reacted with blood from a seemingly healthy Australian Aborigine. The serum from the hemophilia patient contained an antibody that reacted to something in the Australian’s blood.

That “something” would eventually be called the Australia antigen. The researcher was Baruch Blumberg.

Dr. Blumberg passed away on April 5, 2011, at the age of 85. More

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Spurious Vaccination in the Civil War

Jones and Spurious Vaccination in the Civil War, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Robert D. Hicks, PhD, Director, Mütter Museum/Historical Medical Library, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, contributes today’s blog post. In preparation for an exhibit on Civil War medicine at the Mütter Museum in 2012, Dr. Hicks has been researching, among other topics, the occurrence of spurious vaccination in the Civil War. Spurious vaccination was smallpox vaccination that either did not produce immunity in the recipient or that resulted in a transfer of a communicable disease such as syphilis. While physicians in the United States frequently used humanized smallpox vaccine during the Civil War, French physicians at the time were popularizing a mode of smallpox vaccination that relied solely on serial propagation of vaccine in cows. Human transmission of smallpox vaccine disappeared by the turn of the century.

According to Joseph Jones, MD, Professor of Physiology and Pathology, University of Nashville, vital medical research was “brought to a sudden and unexpected close, by the disastrous termination of the civil war.” Writing in 1866, in a radically changed and changing South in the aftermath of the Civil War which ended the previous year, Jones expressed frustration that a Confederate medical investigation on smallpox vaccinations “was destroyed during the evacuation of Richmond.” Confederate medical records in Richmond, Virginia, disappeared after the victorious Union Army torched the city. Vexed by these circumstances, Jones surveyed physicians throughout the South who served in the Confederate Army to elicit data about “spurious vaccinations” and resurrect the destroyed report. Spurious cases were smallpox vaccinations of soldiers deemed “accidents” because they conferred no subsequent immunity to the disease or, compounding misery, introduced other diseases incident to vaccination, particularly syphilis. Jones paints a dire portrait of a Confederate Army that experienced far too many deaths and disabilities due to spurious vaccinations. More

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NYAS: March 28 Vaccine Event

CDC Please join the New York Academy of Sciences for “Vaccines under the Gun: Politics, Science, Media and the Law,” taking place on Monday, March 28 (1:00 PM – 5:00 PM) at the New York Academy of Sciences conference center in New York City. Esteemed speakers Paul Offit, MD (The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Dan Thomasch (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe) and Trine Tsouderos (Chicago Tribune) will examine historical approaches to vaccination, the evolution and use of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, community-wide and personal safety considerations, social implications of these decisions, and the impact of recent legal cases (CHOP vs Health Care Workers Union 1199, AFL-CIO; Bruesewitz vs Wyeth). Perri Klass, MD (New York University) will moderate a panel discussion. This symposium is presented by the New York Academy of Sciences’ Vaccine Science Discussion Group. More

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