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History of Vaccines Blog


February 10, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by History of Vaccines intern Carley Roche. The anti-vaccination movement has had some ardent supporters since its inception. One of the most prominent figures of this movement was Lora Cornelia Little. Little was born in a log house on March 26, 1856, in Waterville, Minnesota Territory. Growing up she was introduced to ideas of water-cure and phrenology by reading journals and her father’s books. She married an engineer named Elijah Little, and together they had one child, a son named Kenneth Marion Little. In April 1896, just three months after Kenneth’s seventh birthday, he died. Lora blamed his death on the smallpox vaccine. But, as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia notes, “…Mrs. Little’s son, Kenneth, was vaccinated in September 1895 and died in April 1896. Between the time of inoculation and death, he suffered recurrent ear and throat infections, measles and diphtheria. The latter was the ultimate cause of his death. Mrs. Little pointed to ‘the artificial pollution of the blood,’ [that] had fatally weakened his constitution and left him at the mercy of the subsequent infections.” Her lifelong crusade against vaccines began with this belief that being vaccinated had made Kenneth susceptible to the illness that followed.

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Smallpox

October 26, 2016  carleyroche

During the month of October, we see pumpkins, black cats, witches, and skeletons everywhere we turn. These images remind us of costumed children, scary movies, and tasty treats. But there is a bigger history behind these images, specifically the skeleton. A symbol for death and the afterlife, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, the skeleton holds a powerful meaning across many diverse cultures. It was also once adopted by the 19th-century anti-vaccination movement to scare people, especially parents, into forgoing smallpox vaccination. Below are a few examples of skeletal images used by Victorian Era anti-vaccinators.

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Smallpox

September 27, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Carley Roche, an intern here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, wrote today's blog post. In December 1924 the city of Philadelphia experienced an uptick in the incidence of smallpox with 9 new cases of the disease. While there had been a few reported cases earlier in the year, it soon became apparent in early January 1925 that the December outbreak might be more severe than the others, as the first smallpox death occurred in Philadelphia in more than 12 years. The Department of Public Health would spend the next 6 months quarantining and vaccinating citizens of the city in order to prevent a massive outbreak of smallpox beyond the city limits.

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September 10, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

Tonight be sure to watch or record "Vaccines: Calling the Shots," the latest installment of NOVA on PBS. This documentary looks at parental attitudes toward vaccination and their influences on disease spread. Check your local listings -- here in the Philadelphia area it's scheduled for 10 pm, but in other areas it's scheduled at 9 pm Eastern. Additionally, there's the matter of the President's televised address at 9 pm Eastern, which is likely to push the broadcast later. We here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia were lucky enough to host award-winning filmmaker Sonya Pemberton (who wrote/produced/directed the film)--and her crew in 2012, when they were filming segments of the documentary. A version aired in 2013 as 90-minute film titled "Jabbed: Love, Fear, and Vaccines."  

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Public Health

August 4, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by Robert D. Hicks, PhD, Director, Mütter Museum/Historical Medical Library, William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The World Health Organization has been debating the future of smallpox. The debate concerns what to do with existing stocks of infectious smallpox virus given its eradication from the planet decades ago, one of the most significant public health achievements ever. Assuming a method could be devised to dispose of these smallpox stocks safely to avoid their being used as a terrorist weapon, can we be assured that all of it has been destroyed? Is destruction a good thing, since future technologies may be able to elicit from virus samples answers to fundamental questions about epidemic diseases, their origins, evolution, and treatment? What if possibly infectious samples of smallpox still exist . . . in museums and libraries?

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Smallpox

July 14, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by College Librarian Beth Lander, MLS. “To the memory of Fellows of The College who have fallen whilst in performance of duty during pestilence or war” begins a plaque hanging near our Historical Medical Library. The memorial not only offers a gentle reminder of the sacrifices made by physicians in the care of their patients, but also is a reminder of how closely mortality hovered prior to the age of vaccines. The summer of 1793 was unusually hot and dry. Wells and creeks were low, and the people of Philadelphia were plagued by flies and other pests. By mid-August, people in Philadelphia fell ill with symptoms similar to an outbreak of fever that Benjamin Rush, a founder of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, had witnessed in 1762: “These patients were generally seized with rigors, which were succeeded with a violent fever and pains in the head and back. The pulse was full, and sometimes irregular. The eyes were inflamed, and had a yellow cast, and vomiting almost always attended. The third, fifth, and seventh days were mostly critical, and the disease generally terminated in one of them, in life or death. An eruption on the third or seventh day over the body, proved salutary. An excessive heat, and burning about the region of the liver, with cold extremities, portended death to be at hand”

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Yellow Fever

March 10, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

I’ve been corresponding with a reader who is interested in HA Martin’s On Animal Vaccination, an 1877 publication by the physician who is widely credited with introducing and producing non-humanized smallpox vaccine in the United States. Martin obtained vaccine from the famed Beaugency vaccine line, begun in the 1860s with naturally occurring cowpox in a French cow. The French Académie du Médicine cultivated the vaccine in serial transmission in cows and avoided harvesting any vaccine from humans.

Posted in: Smallpox, Historical Medical Library

October 16, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

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.

Posted in: Historical Medical Library

June 13, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

I’ve previously written about an early use of diphtheria anti-toxin in the United States, on October 16, 1894. A pair of young Cincinnati physicians managed to find some anti-toxin in the possession of a local physician who had brought it back from Europe. They treated a young girl who survived, and a Cincinnati newspaper trumpeted on October 20 that the doctors had used the new serum. The typescript memoir of this incident says that this was the first use of anti-toxin in the country, but I knew that there were probably other uses around this time. A recent note from an NIH researcher prompted me to look at the timing once again to try to establish, if not the definitive first use of anti-toxin in the states, then at least an earlier use than the one in Ohio.

Posted in: Diphtheria, Historical Medical Library

March 11, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

Instead of a teething ring, I had a passport. Between a military father and diplomatic step-father, my family moved every year or two or three to exotic places, from Taiwan to the Philippines to Ecuador. Tucked into my passport was another essential travel document, the International Certificates of Vaccination issued by the federal government, a yellow-paper catalog of inoculations with separate pages for smallpox, yellow fever, and cholera. When traveling during the 1950s and 1960s, before computerized databases, immigration officials examined my passport in one hand, the dog-eared vaccination record in the other. Reviewing the vaccination record now, I still derive the same satisfaction that I experienced as a school kid in reading my vaccination history—which we kids called our “shot records”--as a chronology of health accomplishment, a medical report card. A visit to the doctor before taking a trip became so routine that I ceased to fear needle punctures. Rather, I looked forward to having the administering physician sign and return my vaccination record.

Posted in: Cholera, Historical Medical Library, Yellow Fever