The History of Vaccines Blog

Cholera Outbreak in Haiti May Reach Almost Double Predicted Cases

Dr. Jaime Ferrán Inoculating for Cholera in Spain, 1885. Image courtesy National Library of Medicine. In October 2010, cholera broke out in Haiti for the first time in decades, devastating the country while it was still recovering from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands and left millions homeless just nine months earlier. In typical conditions, cholera can be treated easily with an oral rehydration solution or, in severe cases, via intravenous fluids to replace what is lost to vomiting and diarrhea. With quick treatment, nearly all patients recover. Left untreated, however, the dehydration and shock caused by the disease can kill within a matter of hours.

In Haiti, the country’s already-poor infrastructure had been additionally damaged by the earthquake, leaving conditions ripe for water- and food-borne diseases; within a month’s time, the cholera outbreak had spread across the country and killed almost 1,000 people. By the end of the year the death toll in Haiti had passed 3,000, and the Haitian government predicted that there would be more than 400,000 cases by the end of October 2011. Now, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of California San Francisco have found that the number may reach almost twice that, predicting 779,000 cases of cholera and 11,100 deaths by the end of November. More

Interview with Paul Offit and Seth Mnookin

On March 1, The History of Vaccines hosted "Vaccine Science, Realities, and Fears in the Popular Mind" at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Paul Offit, MD, an infectious disease physician and vaccine developer, and Seth Mnookin, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, discussed their new books as well as the past and future of vaccination as depicted in the media, among parents, and in the medical world. More

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What We're Researching: Typhoid Fever History

First typhoid inoculation at the U.S. Army Medical School. Recently we’ve been developing new material for our historical timelines. In the near future, we’re planning to add some entries on typhoid fever and the development of typhoid vaccines. In the meantime, we wanted to share a bit of what we've found. More

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Don't Forget: Offit and Mnookin in Philadelphia, March 1, 6:30 pm

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: We hope you'll join us in person or online for this thought-provoking event. More

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Bruesewitz vs. Wyeth Case Resolved

Pertussis bacteria, Copyright Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on February 22 on Bruesewitz vs. Wyeth, upholding a federal law that established protection for vaccine makers from lawsuits and that provides compensation for certain vaccine injuries.

The Bruesewitz suit claimed that a vaccine Hannah Bruesewitz received in 1992 (her third dose of the diphtheria-whole cell pertussis-tetanus vaccine) was defective in its composition and thus resulted in the girl’s seizures and developmental delays. The Bruesewitz family earlier had been denied compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion, stating that "Vaccine manufacturers fund from their sales an informal, efficient compensation program for vaccine injuries; in exchange they avoid costly tort litigation and the occasional disproportionate jury verdict."  He asserted that the intention of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (which established NVICP) to exclude drug design defects from liability claims is evident in its “lack of guidance for design defects combined with the expansive guidance for the grounds of liability specifically mentioned.” More

Reminder and Webcast Notice: Offit and Mnookin, March 1, 6:30 pm

Many of you have emailed and called us to ask if we'll be webcasting the March 1 event here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The answer is yes. Please tune in if you can't be here in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: More

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Smallpox in Milwaukee, 1925

Smallpox, Milwaukee, 1925. Courtesy Bennett Lorber, MD We've recently acquired some photographs and documents from a smallpox epidemic that occurred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1925. Our own Dr. Bennett Lorber, President of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and Professor of Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine, acquired these items originally collected by Dr. Merle R. French (d. 1961), a 1921 graduate of the University of Iowa School of Medicine. Dr. French, at the time of this outbreak, was the Superintendent of the Communicable Diseases Hospital in Milwaukee.

Dr. French wrote a note describing the patient pictured here: "Picture of smallpox patient taken at S.view Hospital a short time ago. Man was a Christian Scientist who thought that he could by power of mind prevent smallpox. Man died. This is the kind of smallpox we are having." We assume that Dr. French was referring to an outbreak of variola major, the more dangerous form of smallpox, rather than variola minor, which came to be the dominant form of smallpox in the 20th century, particularly in the West. This man seems to have suffered from a type of variola major known as hemorrhagic smallpox, of which there were 22 cases in this epidemic. Hemorrhagic smallpox usually was fatal. The other photographs show less severe, but clearly serious, cases. More

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New Videos: Blumberg and Austrian

Baruch Blumberg discusses connecting the Australia antigen to hepatitis B. New this week on The History of Vaccines are interviews with two vaccine pioneers, Baruch Blumberg, MD, PhD, and Robert Austrian, MD.

The History of Vaccines interviewed Dr. Blumberg here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in November 2010. Dr. Blumberg discussed the fieldwork that led to his discovery of the Australia antigen, the challenges of investigating the nature of the Australia antigen, the discovery of its relationship to the hepatitis B virus, and his work on the serum-based hepatitis B vaccine. He also discussed being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976 (only after prompting from us!), his subsequent travels in China at a time when very few Westerners had been there, and results of studies of reduction of HBV prevalence associated with the vaccine.

Infectious disease physican and Chief Medical Officer of the Penn Health System P.J. Brennan, MD, interviewed Dr. Austrian (1916-2007) in 2000. Dr. Austrian discussed his initial investigations into the prevalence of pneumococcal pneumonia, the assumptions he worked against that antimicrobials had "solved" the problem of pneumococcal pneumonia, and his pneumococcal vaccine trial among gold miners in South Africa. More

Candidate Malaria Vaccine Effective for 15 Months in Clinical Trial

Magnified photomicrograph of Plasmodium falciparum parasites that cause malaria, in a growing stage. CDC/Dr. Mae Melvin. Despite global efforts to disrupt malaria transmission using mosquito nets and drug therapies, the disease remains widespread: hundreds of millions of cases occur each year, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. While these measures can help to control the disease, an effective vaccine against malaria would be a major contribution to global public health.

The leading candidate vaccine against malaria is the RTS,S vaccine, which is currently in Phase III trials in seven countries in Africa. (Phase III trials are used to confirm the effectiveness of a drug as determined in Phase II trials, as well as to continue monitoring the drug for safety.) While this vaccine offers only partial protection against malaria—prior data showed it to be 53% effective eight months after vaccination—even this level of protection would be a significant improvement to public health efforts. More

Viral Strains for Seasonal Flu Vaccine Well-Matched with Circulating Strains

Transmission electron micograph (TEM) depicting influenza A virions. Photo credit: CDC/ F. A. Murphy Because influenza viruses frequently mutate, a new seasonal flu vaccine is developed each year in order to keep up with the circulating strains. Each year, the vaccine provides protection against three strains: two influenza A strains and one influenza B. The flu vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season provides protection against a 2009 H1N1 A strain, H3N2 A strain, and an influenza B strain More