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Vaccines and Women’s History Month

Have you heard about the women who were involved in vaccines, vaccine research, and advocating for vaccines?

Vaccines and Women’s History Month

Who’s the first woman you think of?

Is it Lady Mary Wortley Montagu?

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu learned about smallpox inoculation in Turkey and used it to protect her own children, also advocating for more general use in England.

She learned about smallpox inoculation in Turkey and used it to protect her own children, also advocating for more general use in England.

Or is it Sarah Nelmes, the milkmaid who had cowpox and came to Jenner for treatment and became the source of cowpox virus for Jenner’s experiments.

It may be Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering. In 1943 the AAP formally approved the use of a pertussis vaccine they created.

If you are like me, you might think of Betty Bumpers!

Betty Bumpers was a champion in our efforts to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases among children in the United States.  She played a major leadership role as 1st Lady of Arkansas in improving immunization in that state and was inspirational in launching the first major Presidential Initiative on Immunization during the late 1970s.  She continued to be a major immunization advocate through much of her life launching “Every Child By Two (ECBT)” which she chaired along with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter, now “Vaccinate Your Family”.

Walter Orenstein

Whoever you think of first, it should be clear that many women have been involved both in developing and advocating for vaccines.

This includes:

  • Brigitte Alice Askonas – her work on monoclonal antibodies and T-cells helped create improved vaccines
  • Ida Bengtson – developed the complement fixation test, which was used to develop and test vaccines and to diagnose hard to identify diseases.
  • Ruth Bishop – in 1973, she led the team that discovered rotavirus, opening the door for vaccines to target this common virus
  • Margaret Burgess – conducted the first clinical trials of rubella vaccines in Australia
  • Loney Clinton Gordon – isolated a virulant strain of pertussis that was used in Pittman and Kendrick’s pertussis vaccine
  • Dorothy Horstmann – the first woman appointed as a professor at the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Horstmann demonstration how the poliovirus reached the central nervous system via the bloodstream
  • Sister Elizabeth Kenny – established a clinic in Australia to treat polio survivors (1932) and later published her treatment recommendations, Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia (1937)
  • Ruth L Kirshstein – a pathologist at the NIH, she helped develop and refine tests to assure the safety of viral vaccines for such diseases as polio, measles and rubella.
  • Isabel Morgan – she made substantial contributions towards polio research and vaccination, including that she developed the first inactivated polio vaccine, but only tested it on monkeys (1949)
  • Margaret Pittman – worked on a more effective and safer pertussis vaccine and identified the different strains of Haemophilus influenzae
  • Anne Szarewski – researched testing for HPV infections and was the principal investigator on the team that developed the first HPV vaccine
  • Marguerite Vogt – with Renato Dulbecco, they created a way to grow the poliovirus and purify it using the plaque assay, which was essential to making a vaccine.
  • Anna Wessels Williams – in 1894, Dr. Williams isolated a strain of the diptheria bacillus that was used to develop an antitoxin for diphtheria

Who am I leaving out?

March, Women’s History Month, is a great time to find them!

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1 thought on “Vaccines and Women’s History Month”

  1. Very interesting. I would add at least two more recent vaccine advocates, Carol Baker, who set the bar high for vaccine safety during pregnancy and breast-feeding and later chaired ACIP, and Meg Fisher, who has long advocated for immunization.

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