History of Vaccines Blog
The sight of a red cross or crescent on a white background is supposed to signal medical aid, neutrality, and safety. In conflicts around the world, however, hostile actors are flouting decades of protocol and the Geneva convention itself: they are killing and kidnapping Red Cross, Red Crescent, and other emergency aid workers. Al Qaeda-associated militants kidnapped an International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) team in Mali in February this year (military forces freed them about a week later). ICRC polio vaccination workers and staff were killed in Afghanistan in April 2014. Polio vaccinators and their guards have been killed in Pakistan and Nigeria as well.
April 29, 2014
A Monday afternoon session at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research was entitled “Current Challenges in Immunization Policy.” The topics ranged from vaccine hesitancy, effectiveness of acellular pertussis vaccine, and the burden of adverse events from rotavirus vaccination. Saad B. Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, of the Emory Vaccine Center, is widely published on vaccine refusal and its consequences in relation to disease. Most of the work he presented Monday explored the relationship between vaccine hesitancy and pertussis incidence.
April 25, 2014
Sixty years ago tomorrow the largest clinical trial in history began. On April 26, 1954, thousands of U.S. schoolchildren rolled up their sleeves to take Jonas Salk’s inactivated poliovirus vaccine. Newspapers reported that Randall Kerr of McClean, Virginia, was the first child in the trial to get the vaccine. (Thousands of others in earlier stages of research had received the vaccine, including Salk’s wife and children.) The 1954 trial was blinded, meaning that the children didn’t know whether they received the vaccine or a saline placebo injection. Regardless, most viewed themselves if not exactly as test subjects (which they certainly were) but as Polio Pioneers, as they and their parents were encouraged to think of them.
Disease and conflict are unfortunate companions. We’ve seen this recently in the Syrian Arab Republic, where polio has surfaced after violence uprooted millions of people. Other outcomes of conflict for children in Syria and elsewhere are hunger, displacement, interruption of education, and other harms. Please join us May 8 at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to commemorate World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Christiaan Morrsink, PhD, director of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia, will give an overview of conflicts around the world and their effect on children. Pavan Ganapathiraju, MPH, will discuss how the war is interrupting polio eradication efforts in Syria. World fusion artist Farah Siraj will perform, and Clara Barton, U.S. Civil War nurse and founder of the Red Cross, will appear.
April 9, 2014
Leaders and innovators in global health met yesterday at the United Nations to provide guidance about partnerships as the UN considers the next iteration of the Millennium Development Goals. This particular meeting was a side event, sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Threat Analysis and Response, to the UN Economic and Social Council’s two-day meetings on the role of partnerships. Many of the MDGs have been achieved as their 2015 target date approaches. Those successes, and failures, now must inform the setting of new goals, or, as the UN calls them, the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
April 1, 2014
Heidi Larson’s group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine just published a review in Vaccine that attempts to construct a descriptive model of parental vaccine hesitancy. They surveyed the literature on hesitancy from both developed and developing countries. They adopt the term vaccine hesitancy in part because it’s less polarizing than the term anti-vaccine. It describes a continuum of attitudes about vaccine but also a continuum of practices around vaccination, or, as they say, those “in the middle of a continuum of total acceptors to complete refusers.” It’s a relatively new concept; in fact, only six of the 1,164 articles included in the review employed the term vaccine hesitancy.
A Drexel University undergraduate has died from an infection caused by Neisseria meningitidis. Stephanie Ross, a 19-year-old sophomore, was found unresponsive by housemates on Monday, March 10. She died later that day at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia.Caroline Johnson, MD, of the Philadelphia Public Health Department was quoted as saying that Ross “…had an overwhelming bacterial…infection, and she went into shock, and she had symptoms of diffuse hemorrhaging.” Esther Chernak, MD, MPH, who is associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and a History of Vaccines advisor, noted that “the course of bloodstream infections with N. meningitidis (meningococcemia) is often rapid and fulminant, which is why this disease is among the most terrifying infections.” Ross’s housemates and other close contacts have been offered prophylactic antibiotics.
March 10, 2014
I’ve been corresponding with a reader who is interested in HA Martin’s On Animal Vaccination, an 1877 publication by the physician who is widely credited with introducing and producing non-humanized smallpox vaccine in the United States. Martin obtained vaccine from the famed Beaugency vaccine line, begun in the 1860s with naturally occurring cowpox in a French cow. The French Académie du Médicine cultivated the vaccine in serial transmission in cows and avoided harvesting any vaccine from humans.
January 29, 2014
After eight cases of group B meningococcal disease at Princeton University and four cases at University of California, Santa Barbara, health authorities are taking an unusual pathway to using a vaccine that is not licensed in the United States. More than 5,000 Princeton students and staff members with certain medical conditions have received one dose of a meningococcal serogroup B vaccine approved for use in the outbreak by the FDA under an Expanded Access to Investigational New Drug protocol. (I have written about IND approval in the context of vaccines for emergent diseases and biological attacks.) Students will receive the second of the two needed doses in February.
January 23, 2014
Last year I informally surveyed my co-workers here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to find out how many, in this organization whose mission is in part to “advance the cause of health,” had taken the influenza vaccine that season. Out of the 30 people I polled, 43% had. Though this was about on par with national flu vaccine uptake, I was still disappointed with the low number. And so this year, with my supervisor's encouragement, I decided to do something. In early October I spoke briefly at an all-staff meeting to talk about benefits, risks, and myths of influenza vaccination. More than that, though, I promised a $10 Trader Joe’s gift card to everyone who’d get vaccinated and show me the proof.