"History" Makes Headlines with Launch of New Website
Nov 03, 2010
History of Vaccines: A New Website by the Oldest Medical Society in the United States
Stanley A. Plotkin, MD
Before Edward Jenner developed vaccination for smallpox in 1796, the disease killed, blinded, and disfigured millions of people. In the 1920s, diphtheria killed about 15,000 children a year in the United States before immunization was widely available. Measles was a rite of passage for nearly all children, with unfortunate thousands a year suffering death or other permanent consequences, such as brain damage, from the disease.
During my own work on the rubella vaccine, I witnessed an epidemic that left thousands of infants deaf and mentally retarded, and even more thousands of women mourning the loss of pregnancies due to rubella infection during early pregnancy.
This history of what are now vaccine-preventable diseases is easy to overlook, given the current low incidence of these illnesses in the United States (or, in the case of smallpox, the eradication of the disease). In fact, it is typically only during their child’s well-baby checkups, when vaccinations are offered, that today’s parents are asked to consider these “disappeared” diseases. And yet, as I wrote more than 20 years ago, the impact of vaccination on the health of the world’s peoples is hard to exaggerate. With the exception of safe water, no other undertaking has had such a major effect on mortality reduction and population growth.
To shed some light on the history of these illnesses, and the development of vaccines to prevent them, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has created The History of Vaccines, a website dedicated to exploring the role that immunization has played in the human experience and its continuing contributions to public health.The College, the nation’s oldest medical professional society, has long been a treasure for those engaged in studying the history of medicine. It houses the world-renowned Mütter Museum and is known as well for its Historical Medical Library. I am pleased to serve on the Advisory Board of this project, along with Paul A. Offit, MD, and other scientists, physicians, historians, and public health experts.
The History of Vaccines includes interactive games and tutorials, timelines of important events in vaccine history, and contributions from scientists in the field, such as videos of Hilary Koprowski, MD, a developer of early poliovirus vaccines; D.A. Henderson, MD, Dean Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Maurice Hilleman, Ph.D., a contributor to more than 40 vaccines including those for hepatitis B and mumps; and Samuel L. Katz, MD, who helped develop the measles vaccine.
Please visit The History of Vaccines to learn about the role of vaccination in human health.
Dr. Plotkin, who is an instrumental figure in the development and application of rubella, polio, rabies, varicella, and rotavirus vaccines, is Emeritus Professor of the University of Pennsylvania and the Wistar Institute. His many professional awards include the Sabin Gold Medal Award, the French Legion of Honor Medal, and the Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement.
Dr. Plotkin will be speaking at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia on November 3rd at a launch event for the History of Vaccines. His lecture is entitled “Four Centuries of Vaccinology.” More information is available at The College of Physicians’ events calendar.
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