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History of Vaccines Blog


May 22, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

How far should state power extend into medical decisions that parents make on behalf of their children? What is a parent’s responsibility to children in the community who have particular susceptibility to harm from infectious diseases? These questions framed the discussion we had last week here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia on pending legislation in Pennsylvania to eliminate personal belief exemptions to school vaccination requirements. Both the bill’s sponsor, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (17th District) and Paul A. Offit, MD, argued that personal belief exemptions allow parents to shirk responsibility for keeping their communities safe and healthy. The Honorable James G. Colins, President Judge Emeritus, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, introduced and moderated the event.

Posted in: Ethics, Public Health

April 23, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

Please join us on May 14, 2015, at 6:30 pm, when we'll be hosting a panel discussion on legislation pending in the Pennsylvania state legislature that would end philosophical/moral/personal belief exemptions to school vaccination requirements. In light of Pennsylvania's relatively low rate of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination coverage (in 2013-2014, 85.3% of Pennsylvania kindergarteners had received both doses of MMR vaccines, as compared with the nation's median of 94.7%) and the 2014-15 measles outbreak related to exposures at Disneyland, this topic is very timely.

Posted in: Public Health, Ethics

May 14, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

The sight of a red cross or crescent on a white background is supposed to signal medical aid, neutrality, and safety. In conflicts around the world, however, hostile actors are flouting decades of protocol and the Geneva convention itself: they are killing and kidnapping Red Cross, Red Crescent, and other emergency aid workers. Al Qaeda-associated militants kidnapped an International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) team in Mali in February this year (military forces freed them about a week later). ICRC polio vaccination workers and staff were killed in Afghanistan in April 2014. Polio vaccinators and their guards have been killed in Pakistan and Nigeria as well.

Posted in: Ethics, Polio, Public Health

April 29, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

A Monday afternoon session at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research was entitled “Current Challenges in Immunization Policy.” The topics ranged from vaccine hesitancy, effectiveness of acellular pertussis vaccine, and the burden of adverse events from rotavirus vaccination. Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, of the Emory Vaccine Center, is widely published on vaccine refusal and its consequences in relation to disease. Most of the work he presented Monday explored the relationship between vaccine hesitancy and pertussis incidence. 

Posted in: Rotavirus, Ethics, Pertussis (whooping cough)

July 16, 2012  Project Director

In 1988, the WHO predicted that polio would be eradicated by 2000. Today, in 2012, we impatiently watch as polio continues to infect and paralyze children. Why has polio survived even though international aid groups been working so hard to stop it?  One major recent development is mirrored in the past: distrust and boycott of the polio vaccine.

Posted in: Ethics, Polio, Public Health

May 12, 2012  Project Director

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.

Posted in: Cholera, Ethics, Public Health

February 23, 2012  Project Director

Recent furor around research on the H5N1 virus strain that has caused influenza in birds and rare cases of severe influenza in people may have died down for the time being after last week’s meeting of a group of experts assembled by the World Health Organization. They recommended that two different groups involved in what has come to be seen as controversial research should publish their findings in full. A halt on the bird flu research in question and publication of those data is still in place, however, and will likely last a few months longer.

To date, this H5N1 virus is not efficiently transmissible among humans – in fact, humans generally have been infected only after close contact with infected poultry. But virologist Ron Fouchier at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam manipulated the virus so that it became easily transmissible between ferrets via airborne droplets. (Ferrets are a useful standin for humans in influenza studies.) A team headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Madison-Wisconsin accomplished similar results: both papers were under review for publication by science journals before the controversy developed.

Posted in: Influenza, Ethics

May 17, 2010

At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine on May 14, Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, Emmanuel and Robert Hart Director of the Center for Bioethics and the Sydney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a talk entitled “Ethical Lessons of Swine Vaccine Rationing.” Caplan, a widely quoted voice in bioethics, noted that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic provided testing ground for pandemic and even bioterror response planning. What can we learn from the experience?

Caplan described several areas for improvement. First, he noted the plethora of plans, developed at different levels of authority, for dealing with the pandemic. Hospitals, corporations, cities, and states developed plans with different priorities and rationales, some of them potentially at odds. Caplan highlighted the conflict between, for example, a state that might decide to quarantine itself to attempt to reduce importation of disease and a vaccine manufacturer in that state with a need to distribute its product. Would the state plan necessarily take the manufacturer’s needs into account?

Posted in: Ethics, Influenza