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History of Vaccines Blog


March 21, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

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.

Posted in: General, Smallpox

March 6, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

“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”).

Posted in: Smallpox, Vaccine Research

February 21, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

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.

Posted in: Influenza, Public Health

February 10, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post is by History of Vaccines intern Carley Roche. The anti-vaccination movement has had some ardent supporters since its inception. One of the most prominent figures of this movement was Lora Cornelia Little. Little was born in a log house on March 26, 1856, in Waterville, Minnesota Territory. Growing up she was introduced to ideas of water-cure and phrenology by reading journals and her father’s books. She married an engineer named Elijah Little, and together they had one child, a son named Kenneth Marion Little. In April 1896, just three months after Kenneth’s seventh birthday, he died. Lora blamed his death on the smallpox vaccine. But, as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia notes, “…Mrs. Little’s son, Kenneth, was vaccinated in September 1895 and died in April 1896. Between the time of inoculation and death, he suffered recurrent ear and throat infections, measles and diphtheria. The latter was the ultimate cause of his death. Mrs. Little pointed to ‘the artificial pollution of the blood,’ [that] had fatally weakened his constitution and left him at the mercy of the subsequent infections.” Her lifelong crusade against vaccines began with this belief that being vaccinated had made Kenneth susceptible to the illness that followed.

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Smallpox

January 11, 2017  Karie Youngdahl

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s announcement yesterday that president-elect Donald J. Trump asked him to chair a government commission on "vaccine safety and scientific integrity" has prompted a deluge of responses on social media, on blogs, and in the media in general. Though he calls himself (and Trump) "very pro-vaccine," Kennedy has been a dogged pursuer of the discredited connection between vaccination and autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. If Kennedy's statement about his appointment is true -- and a Trump spokesperson has not quite confirmed it -- public health and medical workers are right to be concerned about the effect this commission may have on public perception of vaccines. 

Posted in: General, Public Health

December 20, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

After years of hopes and false starts for a new Lyme disease vaccine, a French vaccine company has announced that their candidate vaccine will be tested for safety in humans. Valneva has received US Food and Drug Administration and European Union Clinical Trial Application approval to conduct a Phase I trial in 180 adults in sites in both the United States (Lincoln, Nebraska) and Europe (Ghent, Belgium). A pre-clinical trial of the vaccine candidate showed that it was effective at preventing Lyme disease in mice. The proposed dosage is a three-dose series at 0, 1-2, and 12 months, with a booster after 3-5 years. If the vaccine safety profile is acceptable in the Phase I trial, it would then proceed to a Phase II efficacy trial.

Posted in: General

December 8, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Join us December 13 at 6:30pm for an illustrated talk about smallpox vaccination in the American Civil War. Several smallpox epidemics swept through the Confederate states during the war. Southerners blamed the outbreaks on the northern states. Confederate doctors attempted to prevent smallpox spread by vaccinating soldiers, but then discovered that some vaccinations were ineffective (“spurious”) and spread other diseases, particularly syphilis. Director of the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library, and William Maul Measey Chair for the History of Medicine, Robert Hicks, PhD, will discuss how the Confederacy managed vaccinations and tried to address the problem of spurious vaccination. His illustrated talk includes the use of children on plantations as a source of vaccine and allegations of vaccination poisoning in the conflict’s only war crimes trial.

Posted in: Smallpox

November 10, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

What does the United States president-elect have to say about vaccines?

Donald J. Trump has frequently stated that he believes that vaccines can cause autism, as in the Tweets shown here. In one of the primary debates, he dialed back his criticism a bit, stating, “I am totally in favor of vaccines, but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.” But as Tara Haelle, a blogger at Forbes.com wrote, “Vaccines are very precisely manufactured to include only what is absolutely necessary to induce enough of an immune response that the body can protect itself against those diseases. So a smaller dose wouldn’t protect a child. It would stick a child with a needle for no reason at all. And spreading out vaccines? That just increases the risks to the children, including leaving them more susceptible to the diseases for a longer period of time. Trump is not ‘totally in favor of vaccines’ if he doesn’t want children protected from the diseases above as early as possible.” In contrast, in 2015, Hillary Clinton Tweeted, “The Science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest.”

Posted in: General, Public Health

October 26, 2016  carleyroche

During the month of October, we see pumpkins, black cats, witches, and skeletons everywhere we turn. These images remind us of costumed children, scary movies, and tasty treats. But there is a bigger history behind these images, specifically the skeleton. A symbol for death and the afterlife, sometimes positive and sometimes negative, the skeleton holds a powerful meaning across many diverse cultures. It was also once adopted by the 19th-century anti-vaccination movement to scare people, especially parents, into forgoing smallpox vaccination. Below are a few examples of skeletal images used by Victorian Era anti-vaccinators.

Posted in: Historical Medical Library, Smallpox

October 20, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Human papillomavirus vaccination series completion will now require only two doses of vaccine for adolescents younger than 15 years. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved this recommendation at their biannual meeting in Atlanta yesterday. The new schedule for <15 year olds calls for the second dose to be given between 6 and 12 months after the first dose. Adolescents receiving the first dose of HPV vaccine at age 15 or older will continue to be recommended three doses of vaccine, given at 0, 1-2, and 6 months.

Posted in: HPV, Meningococcal disease