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History of Vaccines Blog
March 30, 2017
With Women’s History Month coming to an end, intern Carley Roche recognizes two influential female researchers whose work has saved countless lives. Margaret Pittman was born January 20, 1901, in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. After graduating magna cum laude with a BA in mathematics and biology she went on to attend the University of Chicago. By 1929, Pittman had received both her master’s and her PhD in bacteriology.
March 6, 2017
“What if possibly infectious samples of smallpox still exist . . . in museums and libraries?” That was the question posed in “A Scab Story,” a blog posted here on August 4, 2014. The essay reviews the few examples of 19th century scabs that have appeared in library collections (and a few other places) over the past dozen years and argued that they might prove to be a scientific boon because we lack historical examples of smallpox and smallpox vaccine material. The blog concludes by suggesting how museum and library employees ought to handle any such material they find in their collections, including conveying old scabs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for analysis. The essay reminded readers, “And don’t forget to blog about it.” Admittedly, one of us (Robert D. Hicks) fantasized about finding an ancient scab from an early vaccination in the collections of the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia that would yield a crucial insight about the origin of the smallpox vaccine. One should always be careful about what one wishes for. In April, 2016, while the rest of the museum staff was away on a field trip, Robert took a new employee into collections storage for a tour. While inspecting phlebotomy tools, the new employee called attention to a small, pretty, red leather roll-up case. Robert saw a handwritten label on it which read, “vaccination kit.” Not having noticed it before, he removed it (with nitrile-gloved hands) and examined its components: a tiny lancet, two square glass plates, and a tiny tin box with a sliding lid. He opened the lid and beheld crumbled scabs which had the appearance of tiny fragments of topaz. At once, he recognized how the kit was intended for use because he had researched vaccination practices during the American Civil War (see “Spurious Vaccination in the Civil War”).
September 24, 2014
On Monday, September 22, in Philadelphia, Matthias J. Schnell, PhD, of the Jefferson Vaccine Center, announced that one of his lab's Ebola virus vaccine candidates was moving into human trials. Funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Defense will allow production of a clinical lot of the vaccine for a Phase 1 trial that could be completed as early as mid-2015 (see Anthony Fauci's testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee). Schnell addressed a gathering of diplomats, scientists, and large audience of students and healthcare professionals at Thomas Jefferson University to discuss the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Ambassadors of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea spoke about the difficulties of epidemic response in their countries, which are especially complex given the legacies of years of civil unrest there.
December 20, 2013
Our advisor, Thomas Fekete, MD, FCPP, wrote today’s post. Dr. Fekete, a frequent contributor to this site and an active Fellow here at the College, has many responsibilities at Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine: Section Chief, Infectious Diseases; Professor, Medicine; Associate Professor, Microbiology and Immunology; and Executive Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs, Department of Medicine. Twenty-plus years ago, an improved (protein-conjugated) vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) was approved and deployed extensively in young children in most developed countries. There was a rapid and sustained drop in serious infections caused by Hib. This reduction of meningitis, pneumonia, blood infections, and so on was dramatic and was accompanied by a major reduction in the formerly common and seemingly innocent carriage of Hib in the throats of children. As a result, even unvaccinated children had protection from Hib via herd immunity.
April 24, 2013
Day 2 of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research included a focus on maternal immunization. Carol J. Baker, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine, opened the session (much to our pleasure!) with the history of evidence of the effectiveness of maternal immunization for preventing disease in newborns via passive transfer of antibodies via placenta or breastmilk. It’s generally accepted that this passive immunity, for some diseases, benefits the baby for about the first six months of life. We haven’t had a chance to look up her references, but she mentioned evidence from 1879 that showed vaccination with vaccinia prevented smallpox in infants, from 1938 showing that maternal immunization with whole-cell pertussis vaccine protected infants from pertussis complications, from 1961 showing vaccine-induced tetanus immunity transfer from mother to baby in New Guinea, and, finally, from 2011 leading to recommendation of pertussis-containing vaccine and influenza vaccine for pregnant women.
We’re spending National Infant Immunization Week in Baltimore at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research. It’s three full days of sessions focused on research into existing and new vaccines, as well as research on epidemiologic and public health aspects of infectious diseases and vaccines. One of the main threads at the first day of the conference was disease eradication. DA Henderson, MD, opened the conference with a keynote address on the feat of smallpox eradication through vaccination. He highlighted the unique qualities of smallpox that made it an ideal candidate for eradication and compared some of these factors with parallel characteristics of polio. (Dr. Henderson discussed some of these characteristics in our interview with him.) In every category, polio is a more complicated disease
October 1, 2012
Philadelphia is an excellent place to learn about the history of vaccines, and The Wistar Institute, the country’s first independent biomedical research facility, is in great part responsible for this rich history. On Friday, September 28, Wistar Institute President and CEO Russel E. Kaufman, MD, spoke to a group of Wistar Institute friends and donors at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. (Wistar is in the midst of a major construction project and has limited meeting space.) He told that crowd that he wanted us to unlearn some things we think we know about vaccines. In particular, he mentioned that he wanted to draw our attention to the way that scientific advancement truly happens: typically, it doesn’t result from a brilliant insight, followed by a methodical plan of action. Rather, accidents, collaboration, and learning from the context of one’s scientific milieu are important factors that affect scientific progress.
August 1, 2012
As visitors to this site know, the development of new methods to cultivate viruses for vaccine use has been an important part of the history of vaccines. From living, complex organisms such as humans and cows, to chicken eggs, to tissue explants, to mammalian cells in culture, various hosts have been used at different stages of technological development to produce vaccine material. Now, recombinant technology, like cell culture technology before it, is changing the way vaccines are made as plants are being programmed to produce antigens for vaccines. Last week, College of Physicians Director and CEO George M. Wohlreich, MD, and I made a visit to a unique research facility in Newark, Delaware, last week to see first-hand the future of vaccines. Fraunhofer USA’s Center for Molecular Biotechnology built this 14,000 square foot plant-based vaccine research and manufacturing facility, funded partly by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
April 17, 2012
Eighteen years after the sole manufacturer of adenovirus vaccine announced its discontinuation, adenovirus type 7 and type 4 vaccines are once again available for U.S. military trainees. The adenovirus vaccination program resumed in October 2011, with enlisted soldiers receiving the vaccine during basic training. The re-licensure of the vaccine required significant investment by the U.S. government and long years of testing and regulatory review, during which rates of adenovirus illness in the military rose. The history of the vaccine’s disappearance illustrates the precarious position of some of our lesser-used vaccines.