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History of Vaccines Blog


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

October 12, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Frequent visitors to this site will probably be acquainted with the name Maurice Hilleman and the man's work. During a long career with the U.S. Army, Squibb, and Merck, Hilleman developed dozens of vaccines and made important innovations in vaccinology. Before Hilleman died in 2005, Paul A. Offit, MD, himself developer of a widely used rotavirus vaccine, filmed a series of interviews with Hilleman and other scientists. Now Dr. Offit has produced and released a documentary using the footage, and we are proud to host a screening of it. It's an excellent film, with fascinating historical footage, animations, and insights into the world of infectious diseases prevention. Please join us for the screening -- we think you'll really enjoy the film.

Posted in: General, Measles

September 30, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

The World Health Organization Region of the Americas has achieved a milestone in disease elimination – the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on September 27, 2016, declared the Americas to be free of endemic measles. In the pre-vaccine era, the WHO estimates that measles killed 2.6 million children per year globally, and so measles elimination has done a great deal to combat a major threat to child health. The Region of the Americas is the first of the six WHO regions to eliminate transmission of measles. The United States was certified measles-free in 2000, and the last cases of endemic measles were reported in other countries of the region in 2002. The International Expert Committee for Documenting and Verifying Measles, Rubella, and Congenital Rubella Syndrome Elimination in the Americas was responsible for collecting reports from region countries to certify that measles has in fact been eliminated. Polio (certification in 1994), rubella (2015) and smallpox (1971) have been eliminated from the region as well, and, of course, smallpox has been eradicated globally (certification in 1980).

Posted in: Measles, Public Health

September 27, 2016  Karie Youngdahl

Carley Roche, an intern here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, wrote today's blog post. In December 1924 the city of Philadelphia experienced an uptick in the incidence of smallpox with 9 new cases of the disease. While there had been a few reported cases earlier in the year, it soon became apparent in early January 1925 that the December outbreak might be more severe than the others, as the first smallpox death occurred in Philadelphia in more than 12 years. The Department of Public Health would spend the next 6 months quarantining and vaccinating citizens of the city in order to prevent a massive outbreak of smallpox beyond the city limits.

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