The History of Vaccines Blog

Flu Vaccine: How Did We Do?

Flu Vaccine Field Trip Last year I informally surveyed my co-workers here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to find out how many, in this organization whose mission is in part to “advance the cause of health,” had taken the influenza vaccine that season. Out of the 30 people I polled, 43% had. Though this was about on par with national flu vaccine uptake, I was still disappointed with the low number. And so this year, with my supervisor's encouragement, I decided to do something. In early October I spoke briefly at an all-staff meeting to talk about benefits, risks, and myths of influenza vaccination. More than that, though, I promised a $10 Trader Joe’s gift card to everyone who’d get vaccinated and show me the proof. More

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Cholera Specimen Reveals Its Genetic Secrets

Intestine sample, courtesy McMaster University The building is abuzz today after the online publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of a paper analyzing a Mütter Museum specimen. Encased in a glass jar, floating in an alcohol solution, is an 8-inch-long segment of small intestine taken from a victim of the 1849 Philadelphia cholera epidemic. Scientists, including the Museum curator Anna Dhody, were able to extract and analyze cholera DNA from the intestine. The study aim was to describe the type of cholera that was responsible for the 1849 epidemic, which was part of the second cholera pandemic.  It has been assumed that the classical biotype caused the 19th century pandemics, and that a newer strain, known as the El Tor strain, did not emerge until the 20th century. This hasn’t however, been thoroughly studied. More

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Everything Has Changed: A Post for Cervical Health Awareness Month

Courtesy nccc-online.org January is National Cervical Health Awarenss Month. My friend Izumi Kajimoto writes today's post. I am writing this on my mother’s 77th birthday – a mark she missed by thirty years.  “Preventable cancer” is something you don’t want to hear to describe what killed your mother young.  I didn’t waste time bitter that tests were available, but under-publicized, to have caught it in time for her.  But I figured I owed it to knowledge and sense to get my first colonoscopy at age 25 (an uncle died of it too: I have it on both sides) and every five years since. Nothing is more exhilarating than having a hose crawling up your butt for an hour – then being told you don’t have cancer.  I am one of the few lucky ones who had to quit smoking only once, and it was easy. Keeping the weight down, running a lot, I thought I was doing my bit to prove the preventability of something that wiped out a chunk of my family. More

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When Bad News Is Good News

Haemophilus influenzae, (c) Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc. Our advisor, Thomas Fekete, MD, FCPP, wrote today’s post. Dr. Fekete, a frequent contributor to this site and an active Fellow here at the College, has many responsibilities at Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine: Section Chief, Infectious Diseases; Professor, Medicine; Associate Professor, Microbiology and Immunology; and Executive Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, Department of Medicine. Twenty-plus years ago, an improved (protein-conjugated) vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was approved and deployed extensively in young children in most developed countries. There was a rapid and sustained drop in serious infections caused by Hib. This reduction of meningitis, pneumonia, blood infections, and so on was dramatic and was accompanied by a major reduction in the formerly common and seemingly innocent carriage of Hib in the throats of children. As a result, even unvaccinated children had protection from Hib via herd immunity. More

Working in Mali for Child and Maternal Health

Mother, child, community health worker. Courtesy Mali Health. In Mali, the mortality rate for children under five is about 20%, higher than the overall child mortality rate in the World Health Organization Africa Region. It performs worse than much of the region in per capita GDP, government expenditure on health care, maternal mortality rate, and many other measures. Here at the College this week, representatives from Mali Health Organizing Project paid a visit to tell us about their work. Mali Health is a nonprofit group working to reduce child mortality and improve maternal and child health in under-resourced communities in Mali’s capital, Bamako. Since 2006, it has trained and deployed community health workers to work in Bamako’s slums, where they make home visits to evaluate child health, and help facilitate access to healthcare for children and pregnant women. More

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National Influenza Vaccination Week: Interview with HHS Region 3 Administrator Paxman

Dalton G. Paxman, PhD For National Influenza Vaccination Week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dalton Paxman, PhD, FCPP, Regional Health Administrator for the mid-Atlantic region, where he oversees public health initiatives for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). NIVW is a national observance that was established to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination, as well as fostering greater use of flu vaccine after the holiday season into January and beyond. Dr. Paxman is a Fellow here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. His biographical information is below. Many thanks to Dr. Paxman and to Mahak Nayyar, MPA, FCPP, Deputy Regional Health Administrator, for her coordination. More

A Death in the White House

John A. Kolmer, MD John A. Kolmer, MD (1886-1962), was a Philadelphia physician whose interests included infectious diseases and public health. He developed a test for syphilis – the Kolmer test – and he was involved in early tests of Salvarsan, the first effective treatment for the disease. He is also known for his disastrous 1934 trial of a live polio vaccine that caused deaths and paralysis in some recipients. After the vaccine trial, Kolmer abandoned polio studies and focused on teaching public health and preventive medicine at Temple Medical School. In his book about the 1955 Cutter incident, Paul A. Offit, MD, mentions that Kolmer had been called in to treat President Calvin Coolidge’s son Cal, when the boy became ill in 1926. More

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Vaccine Skepticism as a Feminist Stance?

The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Elena Conis published a recent essay in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, entitled “A Mother’s Responsibility: Women, Medicine, and the Rise of Contemporary Vaccine Skepticism in the United States.” I had heard Conis give a talk on this same topic at a conference a few years earlier, and some her claims didn’t sit well with me. In the BHM piece, she looks at vaccine resistance beginning in the 1970s and 1980s and traces its origins to second-wave feminism and its critical view of the medical establishment. Her argument is that at a time when women were still being asked to be guardians of their children’s health – uniquely in a position to protect and care for their children in what was still an almost Victorian model of motherhood – feminist notions of self-care and self-empowerment conflicted with medical practice around vaccination. Parents, particularly mothers, began to question received medical notions about vaccination – that benefits of disease prevention almost always outweighed the risks of vaccination. In publications as extremely back-to-nature as Mothering and as conventional as Dear Abby columns, women discussed the need for vaccination and worried about medical side effects More

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Universal flu vaccine for health workers?

Influenza ward, 1918/19, US Army, Langres, France. NLM. Today’s blog post is by History of Vaccines advisor Thomas Fekete, MD, FCPP. Dr. Fekete is infectious diseases section chief at Temple University School of Medicine. This piece follows my post from Tuesday, which looks at mandatory influenza vaccination policies and implementation at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia and other area health systems. In the community, influenza can be transmitted at home, at school, at work or in other public venues. During the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, large public events in cities like Philadelphia were followed by enormous waves of influenza illness and death. More

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Healthcare Worker Influenza Immunization: Mandates, Benefits, Consequences

Asian Flu Vaccine, 1958 As influenza season approaches, many hospitals and health systems are asking their staff to take the influenza vaccine. Some merely suggest or recommend it, but others mandate it. Consequences for noncompliance range from having to wear a mask during patient care encounters during the influenza season to termination of employment. The reasoning behind requiring health care worker (HCW) influenza immunization relates to possible effects on outcomes related to the hospital environment and patient care, such as preventing spread of influenza to patients, worker absenteeism during busy influenza season, and modeling preventive health behaviors to patients. More

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