History of Vaccines Blog

July 16, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

I was raised in Sioux City, Iowa, a town of about 80,000 people on the very western edge of the state, where the Big Sioux and Floyd rivers join the Missouri. Much of the town's history and identity comes from the rivers -- French fur traders used them for transporting goods, Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri, burying their only casualty on a river bluff in what is now Sioux City, and later, steamboats and barges moved material up and down the river. As they did in 2011, the rivers frequently flooded, with disasterous consequences. I hadn't known before that a flood in 1952 was linked to a polio epidemic in the town.

Posted in: Polio

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

June 13, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

I’ve previously written about an early use of diphtheria anti-toxin in the United States, on October 16, 1894. A pair of young Cincinnati physicians managed to find some anti-toxin in the possession of a local physician who had brought it back from Europe. They treated a young girl who survived, and a Cincinnati newspaper trumpeted on October 20 that the doctors had used the new serum. The typescript memoir of this incident says that this was the first use of anti-toxin in the country, but I knew that there were probably other uses around this time. A recent note from an NIH researcher prompted me to look at the timing once again to try to establish, if not the definitive first use of anti-toxin in the states, then at least an earlier use than the one in Ohio.

Posted in: Diphtheria, Historical Medical Library

June 5, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

AcademicEarth, an educational video and online course provider, has just produced a video for its collection of video electives-–standalone videos that illustrate interesting concepts across a variety of disciplines.In this video, they take on the “too many, too soon” argument often made by vaccine objectors: that receiving multiple vaccines at one time is harmful to a baby or child. The narrator tries to estimate total antigen exposure to age 18 and then compares that figure with antigen exposure via vaccination to age 6.

Posted in: General

May 29, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

A recent paper published in Journal of Virology describes sporadic and sustained outbreaks of illness from vaccine-derived polioviruses in Nigeria. This study draws attention to what is often called the polio endgame – the vaccines and immunization activities that will be necessary to eradicate polio, given the ability of vaccine-derived viruses from the live polio vaccines to circulate and cause disease. To understand the complications of eradicating polio, it’s necessary to know that three types of wild poliovirus have been identified. Types 1 and 3 are responsible for all cases of wild polio in the remaining polio-endemic countries of Pakistan and Nigeria. (Very recent polio cases in Kenya and Somalia are due to Type 1 wild poliovirus.) Type 2 wild poliovirus has not been detected since 1999, when it was found in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is presumed to be eliminated.

Posted in: Polio

May 3, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

Yesterday I spent some time working with students from nearby Science Learning Academy. We were testing a version of a medical history game in development by Lisa Rosner, PhD, and her colleagues at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey. It’s a bit of a challenge to transport 10th grade urban high school students to 19th century Edinburgh where the game is set. But the students were willing to make the leap, and they spent about an hour in the role of a young doctor who must build a practice, court wealthy patrons, gain entry to a medical society, and protect his patients from disease. The students initially didn’t know much about smallpox (though I did show them this illustration of the course of the disease in a young man in the 1880s). But they soon came to see the threat the disease posed: if they didn’t act quickly to vaccinate the other children in a family after one child became ill with smallpox, all the children died.

Posted in: Smallpox

April 24, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

Day 2 of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research included a focus on maternal immunization. Carol J. Baker, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine, opened the session (much to our pleasure!) with the history of evidence of the effectiveness of maternal immunization for preventing disease in newborns via passive transfer of antibodies via placenta or breastmilk. It’s generally accepted that this passive immunity, for some diseases, benefits the baby for about the first six months of life. We haven’t had a chance to look up her references, but she mentioned evidence from 1879 that showed vaccination with vaccinia prevented smallpox in infants, from 1938 showing that maternal immunization with whole-cell pertussis vaccine protected infants from pertussis complications, from 1961 showing vaccine-induced  tetanus immunity transfer from mother to baby in New Guinea, and, finally, from 2011 leading to recommendation of pertussis-containing vaccine and influenza vaccine for pregnant women.

Posted in: Vaccine Research, Pertussis (whooping cough)

April 23, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

We’re spending National Infant Immunization Week in Baltimore at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Annual Conference on Vaccine Research. It’s three full days of sessions focused on research into existing and new vaccines, as well as research on epidemiologic and public health aspects of infectious diseases and vaccines. One of the main threads at the first day of the conference was disease eradication. DA Henderson, MD, opened the conference with a keynote address on the feat of smallpox eradication through vaccination. He highlighted the unique qualities of smallpox that made it an ideal candidate for eradication and compared some of these factors with parallel characteristics of polio. (Dr. Henderson discussed some of these characteristics in our interview with him.) In every category, polio is a more complicated disease

Posted in: Vaccine Research, Smallpox, Public Health

April 13, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

 Hilary Koprowski, Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and a member of the advisory board for The History of Vaccines, died on April 11, 2013. He was 96 years old. Born in Poland in 1915, Koprowski’s long tenure in vaccine research began in 1939 when he received an M.D. degree from the University of Warsaw. After moving to the United States, he developed the first live oral polio vaccine to be used in large-scale trials, administered to the first child in 1950.

Posted in: General, Polio

March 14, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

On March 13, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Vaccine Education Center sponsored a vaccine update webinar with Paul A. Offit, MD, as the speaker and moderator. Dr. Offit discussed vaccine-related items in the news as well as decisions taken at recent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meetings in Atlanta. First on the agenda was a discussion of pertussis vaccine, particularly as it relates to a February 7 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in which researchers (Queenan, Cassidy, & Evangelista) called attention to new strains of Bordatella pertussis that the group had observed at St. Christopher’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Specifically, these strains were classified as pertactin-negative. Pertactin is a protein that is normally a component of B. pertussis, and it is one several antigenic proteins in acellular pertussis vaccines. The letter questioned whether the acellular vaccine was generating pressure on B. pertussis, thus leading to the emergence of these pertactin-negative strains.

Posted in: Pertussis (whooping cough), Influenza, Meningococcal disease