History of Vaccines Blog


December 3, 2018  Rene F. Najera

The recent death of a university student from an adenovirus infection has brought the virus and the disease it causes into the limelight, along with questions about the existing vaccine that is only given to military service members at this time. Read more...

Posted in: General, Public Health

October 18, 2018  Rene F. Najera

With only a few weeks to go before the midterm elections, I've noticed more and more vaccine-related news having to do with the views and opinions of candidates for office. For example, in Oregon, The Daily Beast is reporting that the Republican candidate for governor "wants weaker vaccine laws": "Knute Buehler, a physician who currently serves as a state representative, responded to a recorded question about vaccinations by saying that he backed parental rights to opt out even absent a medical basis for doing so. “As a physician, I certainly believe in the benefits of vaccination but I also think that parents should have the right to opt out,” Buehler said. “To opt out for personal beliefs, for religious beliefs or even if they have strong alternative medical beliefs. And that has been beneficial. I think that gives people option and choice and that’s the policy I would continue to pursue as Oregon’s governor.” Buehler’s answer is at odds with the vast majority of medical literature, which touts the necessity of a social contract around vaccinations in helping to stop the re-emergence or spreading of infectious diseases. Under current Oregon law, parents are able to exempt children from vaccination under specific circumstances: that they talk to a medical provider or watch an online video about the benefits of vaccines." Read more...

Posted in: General, Public Health

September 26, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

When people write about the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-19, they usually start with the staggering global death toll, the huge number of people who were infected with the pandemic virus, and the inability of the medical field to do anything to help the infected. And while those factors were hallmarks of the devastating episode, researchers and health workers in the United States and Europe were confidently devising vaccines and immunizing hundreds of thousands of people in what amounted to a medical experiment on the grandest scale. What were the vaccines they came up with? Did they do anything to protect the immunized and halt the spread of the disease? First, the numbers. In 1918 the US population was 103.2 million. During the three waves of the Spanish Influenza pandemic between spring 1918 and spring 1919, about 200 of every 1000 people contracted influenza (about 20.6 million). Between 0.8% (164,800) and 3.1% (638,000) of those infected died from influenza or pneumonia secondary to it.  Read more...

Posted in: General, Historical Medical Library, Influenza, Public Health

September 19, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post about Spanish Influenza in Philadelphia is by College of Physicians of Philadelphia Librarian Beth Lander. Please join us at the Mütter Museum on September 29, 2018, for an event to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of beginning of the pandemic in Philadelphia. On September 7, 1918, 300 sailors arrived in Philadelphia from Boston, where, two weeks earlier, soldiers and sailors began to be hospitalized with a disease characterized as pneumonia, meningitis, or influenza. The sailors were stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. On September 11, 19 sailors reported to sickbay with symptoms of “influenza.” By September 15, more than 600 servicemen required hospitalization. Physicians and other public health workers in Philadelphia first met on September 18 with city officials to discuss what they perceived as a growing threat. Public health officials demanded that the city be quarantined – all public spaces, including schools, churches, parks, any place people could congregate, should be closed. City officials did not want to create panic. They were more concerned that local support for President Wilson’s efforts in World War I should not be disturbed. Anything that would damage morale – or the city’s ability to raise the millions in Liberty Loans required by federal quota – was unacceptable. Read more...

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Influenza, Public Health

September 10, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by John D. Grabenstein, RPh, PhD, Executive Director, Global Vaccines Medical Affairs, Merck Research Laboratories. He has published widely on the history of vaccine development, immunization policy, and pneumococcal and smallpox vaccination, among other topics. Trains were the primary mode of transportation; the trains stopped running. So many people died, cities ran out of wood for coffins. Churches cancelled services to slow the contagion. Hospitals across America erected canvas tents to cope with unprecedented numbers of patients. Despite desperate and contradictory advice on how to quell the epidemic, no medical effort existed that could help the people.  Read more...

Posted in: Influenza, Public Health

August 8, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

Just last year, in the midst of ongoing measles outbreaks, Italian lawmakers cracked down on parents who avoided vaccinating their children enrolled in public schools. Parents would be fined if their children were not in compliance with 10 vaccination requirements by age 6.  On Friday, August 3, a new coalition of populist and conservative legislators in the Italian Senate reversed direction, passing a measure that would eliminate the requirement that parents demonstrate their schoolchildren are immunized. The measure was supported by the recently ascendant Five-Star Movement and the League (Lega). Five Star had promised, if elected, to address the vaccination requirements.  Read more...

Posted in: General, Measles, Public Health

June 14, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

A new study of school vaccination requirement exemption rates shows that clusters of children with exemptions are present in many local areas and that actual measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) immunization rates are lower in those clusters. The researchers looked at the geography of exemptions in states that allow personal belief or philosophical belief exemptions (PBEs). States with a large number of highly exempting communities include Utah, Idaho, and Texas. Highly exempting areas are not necessarily located in large urban areas; in fact, "the 10 counties with the highest NME rates in the country have fewer than 50,000 persons and are located in rural regions." However, there are large urban areas with a high number of exempted kindergartners, defined in the study as 400 kindergartners. Read more...

Posted in: General, Public Health

May 25, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

An experimental Ebola virus disease (EVD) vaccine developed in Canada is being used to try to control an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). As of May 21, the World Health Organization (WHO) counts 57 confirmed, probable, and suspected EVD cases in the country, with 23 deaths. DRC officials reported the first cases on 8 May 2018. The Ebola vaccine concept emerged from basic research about the pathogenicity of the virus -- scientists in Canada were trying to replicate American experiments that showed that one of the surface glycoproteins of the virus was responsible for its virulence. They deleted the gene for a glycoprotein from vesicular stomatitis virus, an animal virus commonly used such experiments, and inserted the EVD glycoprotein gene. They injected mice with the engineered virus, and rather than becoming sick with EVD when challenged, they were protected from disease. Read more...

Posted in: General, Public Health, Vaccine Research

February 9, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

We're going to have to wait for some good news about this influenza season. That was the message at the close of another reporting week from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Acting Director Anne Schuchat. On a conference call to release updated influenza numbers for the week ending February 3, Schuchat told participants that key indicators for influenza activity have continued to increase. In fact, Schuchat noted, we may be on track to surpass recent records for flu activity. A key indicator of flu activity is the proportion of outpatient and emergency department visits attributed to influenza-like illness (ILI). That proportion for last week was 7.7%, higher than seen at the peak of the 2003-4 season (7.6%) and as high as the peak of the 2009-10 pandemic influenza season. The rate of hospitalizations was 59.9 per 100,000 population. Read more...

Posted in: Influenza, Public Health

January 26, 2018  Karie Youngdahl

Since my blog post last week about this influenza season, which noted that the season appeared to be more severe than normal but similar to the 2014-15 season, the situation has gotten worse. This season may be worse than any season since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The percentage of outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI), one of the main barometers of how widespread influenza is, has continued to increase for the week ending January 20. In fact, the percentage has surpassed that of any week of the 2014-15 season, and it still may not have peaked. ILI is now responsible for 6.6% of all outpatient visits. Influenza is widespread in 49 states and Puerto Rico. CDC's current influenza surveillance report is available here. Read more...

Posted in: Influenza, Public Health