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History of Vaccines Blog


May 25, 2011

The latest episode of "No Bones About It," The College of Physicians of Philadelphia's popular YouTube series, features historian Michael Willrich. Willrich recently spoke at the College for a well-attended History of Vaccines event and discussed his most recent book, POX: An American History, which chronicles the smallpox outbreaks at the turn of the 20th century. Before the event, he sat down with Robert Hicks, director of the Mütter Museum and the College's Historical Medical Library, and the host of "No Bones About It." In this episode, Hicks and Willrich discuss compulsory vaccination, the intersection between civil liberties and public health, and the beginnings of the American anti-vaccination movements in the late 19th century.

Posted in: General, Interviews, Public Health, Smallpox

April 7, 2011

In the 1960s, a medical doctor was interested in studying the influence that a person’s genes could have on susceptibility to disease, with an eye toward developing personalized medicine. By identifying individuals at high risk for a disease and studying environmental factors that interacted with their particular genetic variations, he hoped, researchers could develop approaches that at-risk individuals could use to prevent them from getting sick.

 With colleagues, he traveled across the globe collecting blood samples from different populations. One set of samples produced a curious reaction: antibodies in the blood from a New York City hemophilia patient reacted with blood from a seemingly healthy Australian Aborigine. The serum from the hemophilia patient contained an antibody that reacted to something in the Australian’s blood.

That “something” would eventually be called the Australia antigen. The researcher was Baruch Blumberg.

Dr. Blumberg passed away on April 5, 2011, at the age of 85.

Posted in: General, Interviews

February 28, 2011

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: http://www.livestream.com/collegeofphysicians. We hope you'll join us in person or online for this thought-provoking event.

Posted in: General, Interviews

February 18, 2011  Project Director

Many of you have emailed and called us to ask if we'll be webcasting the March 1 event here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The answer is yes. Please tune in if you can't be here in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, March 1, at 6:30 pm, The History of Vaccines will present Paul A. Offit, MD, and Seth Mnookin speaking about their new books – Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, and Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. We'll be webcasting at the College's Livestream channel: http://www.livestream.com/collegeofphysicians.

Posted in: General, Interviews

May 8, 2010

In the not-so-distant past, smallpox was a scourge of mankind. It spread wildly through vulnerable populations, killing up to 30% of those it infected; those who survived were left scarred, some seriously disfigured or blind.

Smallpox ravaged the world’s population essentially unchecked for more than 3,000 years, sickening Egyptian pharaohs, British royalty, American presidents, and millions in between. But in the 1970s, the disease was nearing the end of its reign. Thanks to massive vaccination and surveillance efforts, smallpox became the first disease to be eradicated from the world. Today, we celebrate 30 years since the people of the world declared themselves free of its grasp.

The last stand

The final case of naturally occurring smallpox took place in Somalia in October of 1977, in a cook named Ali Maow Maalin. Personnel from the global eradication program immediately began efforts to find every individual Maalin had been in contact with, doing house-by-house searches and vaccinating anyone entering or leaving his town. By December 29, 1977, they completed a national search, and Maalin’s case proved to be the last. He survived.

Posted in: General, Interviews, Smallpox

March 31, 2010

In January of this year, staff from the History of Vaccines project traveled to Baltimore along with other College of Physicians staffers to interview D.A. Henderson, MD, who directed a worldwide campaign for the eradication of smallpox—the only disease ever to be wiped out.

The campaign that eventually led to the eradication of smallpox included massive surveillance efforts to monitor disease outbreaks, “ring vaccination” (protecting those who might have been exposed to a smallpox patient), and unprecedented communication and cooperation with local populations worldwide. Dr. Henderson recently documented these efforts in his book, Smallpox: The Death of a Disease.

Posted in: Smallpox, Interviews