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History of Vaccines Blog


April 20, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

At Tuesday’s sessions of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research, vaccine scientists were moderately hopeful about developing an effective Zika virus vaccine. Their hope stems both from precedent and from the relatively simplicity of Zika virus: several effective vaccines for related flaviviruses have been developed, and there appears to be only one serotype of Zika virus, unlike, for example, dengue virus, which has four types. Colonel Paul B. Keiser, MD, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, described the other flavivirus vaccines and the lessons they offer for Zika. Yellow fever vaccine has been used since the 1930s and is exceptionally effective, although it does present serious risks to certain individuals. An inactivated vaccine for tick borne encephalitis has been available in Europe since the 1970s. This vaccine doesn’t have the effectiveness profile of yellow fever vaccine and must be given in a three-dose series with boosters every 3-5 years. The Japanese encephalitis vaccine is another model for Zika vaccine: it is formalin inactivated and given generally in a three-dose series

Posted in: General, Public Health, Yellow Fever

March 25, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

The World Health Organization is reporting a yellow fever outbreak in Angola that began in late 2015. Since the last reported yellow fever cases in Angola occurred more than 30 years ago, this epidemic, with more than 450 cases and 178 deaths, is alarming. The yellow fever virus is carried by mosquitoes, which infect humans with the virus as the female insects feed on blood. In Africa, 34 other countries are subject to yellow fever, but case counts have been declining in recent years. Yellow fever vaccination is part of the routine infant immunization schedule in most countries at risk for the disease. However, yellow fever immunization coverage is nowhere near universal: in Angola, it has ranged from a low of 37% of eligible infants covered in 1997 to 49% in 2013 and 77% in 2014.

Posted in: Yellow Fever

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: Yellow Fever, Historical Medical Library

July 3, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

We've expanded and updated a popular post from 2012 by History of Vaccines former intern Alexandra Linn. Happy Fourth of July! In honor of this historic U.S. holiday, we’ve compiled a list showing how infectious diseases have affected the lives of our most heralded leaders – the American presidents. These concise accounts are evidence that diseases can strike anyone, anywhere at any time, and even in the White House.

Posted in: General, Influenza, Pneumococcal disease, Polio, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Yellow Fever

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, Yellow Fever, Historical Medical Library

June 21, 2010

International Health Regulations allow countries at risk for yellow fever transmission to request certificates of vaccination from foreign travelers. If a visitor is coming from a country considered “high risk” for the disease, they must present a yellow fever certificate approved by the World Health Organization–sometimes at the port of entry, and sometimes before they can even obtain a travel visa.

These policies have no doubt prevented yellow fever transmission, but vaccine shortages in Uganda combined with yellow fever health regulations have led to headaches for some World Cup fans. Uganda’s South African mission, where visas are issued for Ugandans traveling to the World Cup, can’t issue those visas without yellow fever certificates–and many would-be travelers don’t have the certificates, because they haven’t been able to get the vaccine.

CNN’s Samson Ntale reported on June 17 that the large number of travelers headed for South Africa during the World Cup exacerbated the Ugandan vaccine shortage. Ntale reported that more yellow fever vaccine has been ordered, but that in the meantime, many Ugandans have been first traveling to other countries to get their vaccinations and certificates, including Kenya and Tanzania.

Posted in: General, Yellow Fever