History of Vaccines Blog
The World Health Organization has reached another disease elimination milestone: the organization announced on September 21, 2017, that maternal and neonatal tetanus have been eliminated from the WHO Region of the Americas. This achievement comes after a concerted campaign in Haiti to prevent the disease through intensive immunization campaigns, improved surveillance, and attention to safe birth and umbilical care practices. Tetanus is a serious infection with particularly high case-fatality rates in neonates, who may contract the disease via unhygienic birth practices and through improper handling of the umbilical cord and stump. Tetanus has an unusual elimination threshold – unlike other disease that have been eradicated (smallpox) or eliminated regionally (polio, rubella, and measles in the Americas for example), tetanus is not passed person-to-person.
September 12, 2017
The prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for 2017 goes to two scientists who did groundbreaking work conceptualizing and developing a vaccine for human papillomavirus, the pathogen responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer and for many other cancers as well. Prize recipients Douglas R. Lowy, MD, and John T. Schiller, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute (U.S. National Institutes of Health) devised a unique solution to a vaccine for an oncogenic (cancer-causing) virus.
August 8, 2017
Today's blog post is by Mütter Museum and History of Vaccines intern Carley Roche. The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has a vast collection of medals, pins, and ribbons representing some of the most significant events and people in medical history. Recently I have had the opportunity to reorganize and rehouse this collection. This project has allowed me to closely inspect each item in this particular collection. Below are a few medals representing some of the most influential moments and players in the history of vaccines. Since antiquity historians have written records of disease outbreaks that may have been cholera. However, the seven major pandemics of the disease started being recorded in the early 19th century as knowledge of the disease grew. The second cholera pandemic, which reached East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people from 1829-51. The featured medal’s inscription is in French--Paris, with a population of 650,000 at the time, took a devastating loss of 20,000 people to cholera.
July 11, 2017
A year of measles outbreaks in Europe have led to 35 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases. Thirty-one of the measles deaths have occurred in Romania, where years of declining measles-containing vaccine (MCV) coverage is taking its toll. For 2015, the World Health Organization estimates two-dose MCV coverages at 88% of Romanian children, down from a high of 97% coverage in 2003. Measles remains endemic in 14 European countries. In most countries experiencing outbreaks this year, measles immunization rates are much lower than the 95% coverage needed to support herd immunity.Italy alone has recorded 3,300 confirmed cases of measles and one death this year to date – the last time the US, obviously a much larger country, recorded more cases was in 1991, the year of a major epidemic.
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is pleased to announce that the award-winning HistoryofVaccines.org is now available in Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu. This project, generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, makes available to hundreds of millions of more global visitors reliable, accurate information on immunization’s history and its continuing contributions to human health. The three-language site—a companion to the existing sites in English and Spanish—offers more than 40 articles, four activities, and a timeline of vaccine history, all adapted to World Health Organization immunization guidelines and presented in a contemporary, graphically dynamic format. These resources will give parents, students, and healthcare workers useful information that until now has not been widely accessible to readers of Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic.
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, known also as home of the Mütter Museum, launched HistoryofVaccines.org in 2010, and added a Spanish version of the site in 2012. The online resource items from the College’s museum and library collections to explore the history of vaccination and vaccine development. Almost 2 million unique visitors from across the world used the site in 2016.
April 24, 2017
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 21, 2017
I'm happy to announce that The College of Physicians is hosting a lecture on April 3, 2017, that will be of great interest to History of Vaccines readers. This lecture, by Stockton University professor and History of Vaccines advisor Lisa Rosner, PhD, marks the 300th anniversary of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's well-known letter to an English friend about smallpox inoculation as practiced in Turkey. With her "Letter to a Friend," she became one of the earliest inoculation advocates, and she would be joined over the next 300 years by the celebrities and scientists, pop culture icons and heads of state, patients and game developers, who advocated for, or criticized, inoculation and vaccination. This talk will explore this colorful history of vaccine advocacy from Lady Mary to The Pox Hunter, a digital strategy game set in Benjamin Rush's Philadelphia.
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”).
February 21, 2017
Are you a glass half empty or glass half full type of person? Your orientation along the optimism-pessimism spectrum will determine whether you think this year’s seasonal influenza vaccine is a moderate success or near failure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its interim estimate of the 2016-17 influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) last week: the vaccine appears to be 48% effective at preventing physician-attended influenza illness.This VE estimate is similar to last year’s estimate of 47% VE. You can see a table of VE for 2004-16 here. How does the CDC get these data? CDC used five study sites, where they enrolled patients aged ≥6 months seeking outpatient medical care for an acute respiratory illness (ARI) with cough, within 7 days of illness onset. Researchers interviewed study subjects or their parents to collect respiratory specimens, demographic data, health status, symptoms, and 2016–17 influenza vaccination status. Specimens were tested at U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network laboratories using CDC’s real-time reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) protocol for detection and identification of influenza viruses.