The History of Vaccines Blog

Iron Lung on Location in Independence Mall

Dr. Offit discussing the iron lung with children, May 17, 2012 Rolling an iron lung across one of the busiest intersections in downtown Philadelphia attracts a sizeable crowd. As the moving crew pushed the machine down Independence Mall around lunchtime on May 17, clutches of students on field trips to see the Liberty Bell gathered around, shouting questions like, “What is that?” “Is that what Michael Jackson slept in?” “Is it a time machine?”

Australian filmmaker Sonya Pemberton was shooting footage for her documentary Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines, to be shown later in 2012 on SBS in Australia, in the United Kingdom, and (perhaps in 2013) on PBS the United States. On her production company’s website, Pemberton describes her film: “Diseases that were largely eradicated forty years ago are returning. Across the world children are dying from preventable conditions because nervous parents are skipping their baby’s shots. And yet the stories of vaccine injury are terrifying, with rare cases of people being hurt, even killed, by vaccines. To vaccinate or not - how do we decide?” Here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, her crew is shooting interviews with Paul A. Offit, MD, vaccine developer and College Fellow, as well as filming artifacts from the College’s Historical Medical Library and Mütter Museum collection, many of them already discussed on this website. More

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California Immunization Exemption Legislation

**Note: this post was updated on 10/1/2012. California Assemblyman Richard Pan, MD (D - Sacramento), introduced Assembly Bill 2109 (AB 2109) on February 23, 2012. In California, parents who object to vaccinating their children may sign a “letter or affidavit stating that the immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs” to use California’s personal belief exemption to vaccinations required for school attendance. AB 2109 expands on that requirement by mandating that parents consult with a licensed healthcare provider in order to receive the exemption. Under AB 2109, the provider would sign a form attesting that he or she informed that parent about the risks and benefits of vaccination and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases. The parent would sign the form as well. The bill was approved by the California Assembly on May 11, 2012, by a vote of 44 to 19. It was approved by the California State Senate, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law on September 29, 2012. More

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Pertussis Epidemic in Washington State

Copyright Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc. B. pertussis, x5,000 The Secretary of Health of the state of Washington declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012, after the number of reported cases reached 640, compared to 94 cases reported in the same time period in 2011. Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is a respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. After a person becomes infected, it can take from 7 days to a month for pertussis symptoms to develop. The bacteria cause the disease by releasing toxins that lower the lungs’ ability to clear out respiratory secretions (mucus). After an initial period of a low-grade fever and mild cough, the cough becomes severe and occurs in episodes that prevent the patient from breathing properly, so much so that some patients turn blue during the coughing bouts and for a short time after.[1] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported to public health authorities in 2010. More

Cholera Vaccination in Haiti

Cholera vaccine, photo from WHO Cholera is one of those diseases that you really don’t want to get. It begins like any other intestinal illness, with abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Suddenly, a very profuse, watery diarrhea develops. So much water leaves the body through the diarrhea that the person’s mouth becomes dry. He stops urinating because he has no fluid left. Eyes become sunken, and the sufferer loses his energy. During the course of the disease, a person with cholera may pass as many as 13 US gallons (or 50 liters) of fluid. Left untreated, cholera can kill a person in a matter of hours to days from severe dehydration. More

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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

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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