The History of Vaccines Blog

Plotkin on CSPAN's Washington Journal 11/3

Stanley A. Plotkin, 1970s Stanley A. Plotkin, MD, vaccine developer and History of Vaccines advisor, will appear Thursday, 11/3, on C-SPAN's Washington Journal around 9:15 am EDT. Dr. Plotkin will be discussing the history of vaccination and the role of the governement in supporting research and regulating vaccine production. You can watch live on C-SPAN, or live online at http://www.c-span.org/Series/Washington-Journal/. This is a call-in program, so please phone in to ask Dr. Plotkin questions about the history of vaccines. The program will be archived at the Washington Journal website, so if you miss the live show, you'll be able to view it later. More

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ACIP Votes to Recommend Routine HPV Vaccination for Boys

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has been recommended as part of the routine vaccination schedule for girls aged 11-12 since 2006 for the prevention of cervical cancer. In 2009, the FDA licensed the vaccine for use in males aged 9-26 years for the prevention of genital warts caused by two types of HPV, but the vaccine was not yet recommended for boys as part of the routine immunization schedule.

Meeting today at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend routine immunization against HPV for boys at age 11-12. ACIP members, experts selected by the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, develop the recommendations that are used in the U.S. Recommended Childhood, Adolescent and Adult Immunization Schedules. More

Paul Offit at the Philadelphia Neurological Society

Paul A. Offit, MD On October 12, the Philadelphia Neurological Society held one of its regular meetings at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and invited Paul A. Offit, MD, to speak to the membership. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), vaccine developer, and advisor to The History of Vaccines, greeted the membership with his first slide and title of his talk: “Why are neurologists scared of vaccines?”  Though Offit’s title was tongue-in-cheek, it spoke to a tension he has perceived between neurology and vaccinology. More

Increase in HPV Related Throat Cancers Reported

HPV-16 L1 Virus-Like-Particles. Photo credit: John T. Schiller, Ph.D., Center for Cancer Research. A study published in the October 3, 2011, issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology reveals a startling rise in the rate of head and neck cancers related to human papillomavirus (HPV). The study looked at specimens from 271 throat cancers (specifically  oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas, or OPSCC) collected over 20 years. The researchers found that HPV prevalence in the cancers increased from 16.3% during 1984 to 1989 to 71.7% during 2000 to 2004. They note that “The overall rise in OPSCC incidence during 1984 to 2004 is largely explained by the increasing incidence of HPV-positive cancers, whereas incidence of HPV-negative cancers declined.” The decline in non-HPV related oropharyngeal cancers, which are usually related to tobacco or alcohol use, is likely a result of lower tobacco exposure. The HPV-related cancers, as opposed to the non-HPV-related cancers, were more likely to occur in younger, male, and white individuals. The authors speculate that the increased incidence “perhaps arises from increased oral sex and oral HPV exposure over calendar time.” More

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World Rabies Day: Rabies Vaccines

Semple Rabies Vaccine, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia In honor of World Rabies Day, we’d like to draw attention to two rabies vaccines recently found in the collection of the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Museum curator Anna Dhody recently alerted us to a box of vaccines and other medical supplies she found in a little-visited storage area in the museum basement. The box belonged to a collection of medical equipment donated by James G. Kitchen II, MD (d. 1998), who was a Pocono Lake, Pennsylvania, physician and fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Dr. Kitchen stocked the vaccine in his office supplies to address what was probably a fairly uncommon need in his practice: post-exposure rabies prophylaxis in humans. More

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An Infectious Diseases Doctor Views Contagion

1918 Influenza Scrapbook, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Going to the movies is a time-honored way of getting away from the vagaries of work and home life and inhabiting a different and exotic place. I don’t know if car mechanics can really enjoy chase movies or cowboys can appreciate Westerns, but as a specialist in Infectious Diseases, I rarely get a chance to see someone plying my trade inside the multiplex. There are spoilers ahead, so read on cautiously if you have not yet seen Contagion and plan to go.

The new Steven Soderbergh movie, Contagion, is a fairly realistic guesstimate of what might happen if a highly contagious, new infectious agent started moving around the world and destroying people willy nilly like a marauding tornado. While there has never been an infection quite like “MEV-1” as depicted in Contagion, the question of how we would respond as a medical community and as a society is a worthy one to address. Whether the answer is right or wrong – well, let’s hope we never find out.

From an Infectious Diseases angle, the infection in Contagion is crafted to be highly transmissible and fatal. This would be like a hybrid of the 1918-1919 pandemic flu, Nipah virus and SARS. The end of the movie shows the mechanism via which MEV-1 began to infect humans, and it is highly reminiscent of Nipah and SARS. Thus has some built-in credibility as it builds on diseases that we already understand. It is also eerily reminiscent of the most recent big flu outbreak (A/California/2009 H1N1) where the virus contained elements that came from birds, pigs and people. The rapidity of spread lends the movie much of its terror, but is not far off the rapidity of spread of influenza. Similarly, the incubation period and time to death is also reminiscent of the 1918-1919 pandemic flu. So the film-makers have done their homework and created a plausible disaster scenario. More

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Early Evidence of Virus Behind 1918 Flu Pandemic

1918 Influenza Scrapbook, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia The so-called Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 was one of the worst natural disasters in history. Estimates of total death counts vary, but it is commonly stated that the virus infected about one-third of the world’s population and killed about 50 million – possibly as many as 100 million. Researchers have long been interested in learning more about the virus and what made it so deadly, and genetic analysis has been a large part of that effort. In 2005 the full genome sequence of the virus was published, and research has continued from that point.

The virus behind the 1918 pandemic was an H1N1 strain; in fact, it was the only H1N1 strain to cause a pandemic in the 20th century. (Pandemics that began in China in 1956 and Hong Kong in 1968 were caused by H2N2 and H3N2 strains, respectively.) It was unusually severe, and in an unexpected result for an influenza virus, tended to kill healthy young adults rather than the typical flu victims – the very old and the very young. This contributed to the initial fear when novel H1N1 appeared in 2009, particularly since the number of deaths per age group early in the outbreak skewed heavily toward young adults. More

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Vaccine Meetings Discuss Challenges, Achievements

Two important vaccine meetings were held September 11 and 12 at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The September 12 meeting entitled Research Integrity Challenges in Vaccine Development and Distribution for Public Health Emergencies was sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Research Integrity, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics, and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Speakers focused on vaccine development and distribution for biological threats and how the emergency preparedness experiences with A/H1N1 provided lessons that might inform future preparation for similar public health emergencies. More

HOV Staff Gets the Flu Vaccine

Seasonal influenza vaccination Today the History of Vaccines staff -- that's two of us -- went out together to get the seasonal influenza vaccine. The drugstore at the corner offers walk-in shots for $27.99, and so we took a pre-lunch field trip. Our health insurance will reimburse us for most of the cost of the immunization. More

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HPV Vaccine Protects Against Anal Infection

Immunization record showing full HPV vaccination Human papillomavirus (HPV) is primarily known for its role in causing cervical cancer. Two strains of the virus – strains 16 and 18 – are estimated to be responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases, leading to about 500,000 new cases and 270,000 deaths worldwide each year.

Both of the HPV vaccines available in the United States have been shown to be effective in preventing cervical infection with strains 16 and 18. The Gardasil quadrivalent vaccine also offers protection against two strains that cause genital warts. But HPV’s role in cancer is not limited to cervical cancer; the virus can also cause oral, anal, and penile cancer. More

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