Category: History of Vaccines

Did Edward Jenner’s Son Die from a Vaccine Reaction?

Maybe people know that Edward Jenner first gave his new smallpox vaccine to James Phipps, the 8-year-old son of Jenner’s gardener.

What they might now know is that two years later, in 1798, he also vaccinated his own son Robert F. Jenner, when he was eleven months old.

Did Edward Jenner’s Son Die from a Vaccine Reaction?

Did he die after getting vaccinated?

Did he suffer brain damage?

Of course not!

Edward Jenner vaccinated his youngest son, Robert.
Edward Jenner vaccinated his youngest son, Robert.

He didn’t even have a reaction and was later inoculated after being exposed to smallpox.

“My two eldest children were inoculated for the smallpox before I began to inoculate for the cow-pox. My youngest child was born about the time my experiments commenced, and was among the earliest I ever vaccinated. By referring to the first work I published on the subject in the spring of the year 1798, page 40, you will find his name, Robert F. Jenner, and you will observe it noticed that on his arm the vaccine lymph did not prove infectious. It advanced two or three days, and then died away.”

Edward Jenner on the Life of Dr. Jenner

He died 56 years later.

Edward Jenner’s other children didn’t receive his smallpox vaccine. As they were all born before his experiments with cowpox, they had already received traditional smallpox inoculations.

“Edward is growing tall, and has long looked over my head. Catherine, now eleven years old, is a promising girl; and Robert, eight years old, is just a chip of the old block.”

Edward Jenner on the Life of Dr. Jenner

Edward Robert Jenner did die young, but it certainly wasn’t an effect of his father’s smallpox vaccine. He died of tuberculosis, which was a common killer at the time. He was 21 and had always had health problems, but again, he never received his father’s new vaccine, so how could he be the “first child to suffer vaccine damage???”

This myth is easy to debunk. Jenner's son that died young was never vaccinated!
This myth is easy to debunk. Jenner’s son, Edward, that died young was never vaccinated!

What about the ethical implications of giving an experimental vaccine to your own child? A vaccine made with cow pus?

Remember, Jenner’s smallpox vaccine was made with cowpox virus. It was replacing variolation, a procedure in which people were actually inoculated with smallpox virus. While much better than getting smallpox, variolation was still dangerous and some people died from the procedure.

His smallpox vaccine was a much safer option.

More on Edward Jenner’s Son

Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Last year, we found several connections between Father’s Day and vaccines, especially that Maurice Hilleman has often been called the father of modern vaccines.

Is there a mother of modern vaccines?

Vaccines and Mother’s Day

Does it have to be modern vaccines?

Of course, the first person that comes to mind is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learned about smallpox inoculation in Turkey and used it to protect her own children, also advocating for more general use in England.

But that involved variolation, not vaccination.

So who could be the mother of vaccines?

How about the person who “has done more for immunizations that any one person in this whole country?”

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

And to honor her, let’s continue her work

Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio...
Before vaccines, this mother and all of her kids got polio…

For as Betty Bumpers said, “only when every child has completed his or her series of immunizations will our job be completed.”

More on Vaccines and Mother’s Day

What’s the Difference Between the MMR and MMR-II Vaccines?

As most folks know, the original MMR vaccine, which combined the separate measles, mumps, and rubella shots, was licensed way back in 1971.

It included the original rubella vaccine, which was made with a duck embryo derivative of HPV-77 that was attenuated by passing it 77 times in monkey kidney cells.

Wait, what?

HPV?

Before the new conspiracy theories start, no, not that HPV.

It stands for High Passage Virus.

What’s the Difference Between the MMR and MMR-II Vaccines?

And while the vaccine worked, it didn’t work as well and caused more side effects than a RA27/3 rubella vaccine that was already approved in Europe

“Over the next decade, accumulating evidence led to changes in the United States. First, the duck embryo and dog kidney vaccine strains caused significant joint reactions [24–27]. Second, reinfection on exposure to wild rubella virus was demonstrated frequently with all strains except the RA 27/3 vaccine [28–30]. Third, the good safety record of the RA 27/3 vaccine in Europe, plus the majority opinion of scientists, led the US Food and Drug Administration to license RA 27/3. Important pressure for this decision came from Dorothy Horstmann at Yale, who was convinced by her comparative studies of rubella vaccines [31], and by Maurice Hilleman at Merck, who sought a better rubella strain for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.”

Stanley Plotkin on The History of Rubella and Rubella Vaccination Leading to Elimination

So that’s it, they just changed out the rubella component for one that was safer and worked better.

The new and improved MMR-II vaccine was approved by the FDA in 1978.
The new and improved MMR-II vaccine was approved by the FDA in 1978.

And of course, they did the appropriate clinical trials and got FDA approval for this updated vaccine.

The control group didn't get a vaccine during the study.
The control group didn’t get a vaccine during the study.

But did they compare the vaccines against a saline placebo?

“The inclusion of a seropositive control group allowed the rates of reaction to be viewed against the background symptoms unrelated to vaccine administration.”

Polk et al on A controlled comparison of joint reactions among women receiving one of two rubella vaccines.

They actually went a little further, in a double-blind, controlled cohort study comparing it to folks who didn’t receive any vaccine at the time of the study!

Why so many joint issues with the vaccine?

The studies were in adults, who seemed to have more side effects with the vaccine. Still, the side effects, including arthritis, were transient.

What about the idea that it was studied long enough before being approved?

Both the rubella component and the MMR-II vaccine were studied both before and after being approved. In fact, the MMR-II vaccine is probably the most studied vaccine in history!

Believe it or not, they include placebo-controlled trials.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over MMR study in twins!

What was the placebo in the Finland twin trial?

“The injections consisted of 0.5 ml of vaccine 2-5 or placebo (the same product including neomycin and phenol-red indicator but without the viral antigens) and were administered subcutaneously by the nurse to the left deltoid or gluteal region.”

Peltola et al on Frequency of true adverse reactions to measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial in twins.

If that doesn’t sound like a placebo to you, keep in mind that the MMR vaccine doesn’t contain that many ingredients. Remember, MMR doesn’t contain aluminum or thimerosal. And if the placebo didn’t contain the antigens, then it likely didn’t contain all of the things that went into getting those antigens in the vaccine, such as cell cultures and albumin, etc.

Still, some folks aren’t going to be satisfied unless there is a study with a saline placebo.

“The four other vaccines were commercial products of Merck Sharp & Dohme. The placebo consisted of vaccine diluent.”

Lerman et al on Clinical and Serologic Evaluation of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (HPV-77: DE-5 and RA 27/3) Virus Vaccines, Singly and in Combination

The vaccine diluent?

What’s that?

It depends on the vaccine, but for MMR-II it’s sterile water.

“Placebo DTP consisted of sterile saline which was dispensed into sterile Tubex syringes.”

Deforest et al on Simultaneous Administration of Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine With Booster Doses of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis and Poliovirus Vaccines

The MMR vaccine was even tested in placebo controlled trials with other vaccines!

And like other vaccines, the MMR vaccine has been found to be safe, with few risks, and is definitely necessary.

More on the the Difference Between the MMR and MMR-II Vaccines

How Many Vaccines Did Kids Get in the 1950s?

I recently posted an immunization schedule from the 1960s to bust the myth that kids didn’t get many vaccines before the 1970 and 80s, even though they actually got multiple doses of DTP, polio, and smallpox vaccines.

But how about if we go back even earlier than that?

My uncle got polio around the time this vaccine schedule was released in 1951, but before the first polio vaccines were being routinely used.
My uncle got polio around the time this vaccine schedule was released in 1951, but before the first polio vaccines were being routinely used.

In 1951, infants got multiple doses of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines and the smallpox vaccine by the time they were 6 months old, with boosters through age 10 years.

Multiple doses with aluminum. And thimerosal. And far more antigens than kids are exposed to today, even though they now get many more vaccines.

“Tetanus toxoid recall injections should be continued every 3 years throughout life in dosage of 0.1cc to 0.2cc.”

AAP Report of the Committee on the Control of Infectious Diseases 1951

Oh, they also got revaccinated with the smallpox vaccine “every five years.”

And yes, most of the vaccines contained aluminum.

“The Committee recommends that all infants be immunized actively against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus with a course of injections of combined alum or aluminum phosphate precipitated, or aluminum hydroxide adsorbed diphtheria and tetanus toxoids containing H. pertussis vaccine. These products are considered preferable to fluid mixtures for the following reasons: (1) more prolonged antitoxic immunity produced by precipitated or adsorbed mixtures, (2) greater effectiveness as immunizers against pertussis in early infancy, and (3) less likelihood of producing systemic reactions because of lower protein content and slower absorption.”

AAP Report of the Committee on the Control of Infectious Diseases 1951

Other vaccines were also available for special situations, including rabies, typhoid, parathyphoid, and the BCG vaccine.

“Acetylsalicylic acid, 65 mg per year of age, should be given within an hour or two of injections and repeated 4 hours thereafter.”

AAP Report of the Committee on the Control of Infectious Diseases 1951

While it is likely a very big surprise to anti-vaccine folks that kids got multiple doses of DPT, tetanus, and smallpox vaccines back then, unfortunately, it means that they were susceptible to many diseases that are now vaccine-preventable.

Diseases that our kids don’t have to get, because they can be vaccinated and protected with vaccines that are safe, with few risks, and still necessary.

How Many Vaccines Did Kids Get in the 1950s?

About Those Lawsuits That Almost Put Vaccine Manufacturers out of Business

So you likely know that there were a bunch of lawsuits against manufacturers of the DPT vaccine in the early and mid 1980s.

“As the number of lawsuits grew to hundreds during the early 1980s, the pharmaceutical companies making vaccines saw their liability insurance bills soar. Worried not only about multimillion-dollar settlements, but also even the legal costs of defending themselves successfully, several companies simply stopped making vaccine.”

How a Media Scare On Vaccine Started a ‘near-Epidemic’

That’s why the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act passed in 1986, creating the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and the Vaccine Court.

About Those Lawsuits That Almost Put Vaccine Manufacturers out of Business

But did those DPT vaccine lawsuits prove that vaccines aren’t safe?

Is that why vaccine manufacturers needed help to limit their liability?

“The total amount claimed in 1984 DTP vaccine suits ($1.3 billion) is more than 20 times the total value of 1984 sales of DTP vaccine at the market price of $2.80 per dose.”

Hinman on DTP Vaccine Litigation

Of course not!

While the older DPT vaccine did cause more local reactions, pain, and fever than the newer DTaP vaccine that replaced it, all of the serious reactions that triggered the lawsuits were later found to not be caused by the vaccine.

Most of the DPT lawsuits were thought to be frivolous.

That’s not surprising, as the same vaccine lawsuits that were succeeding in driving vaccine manufacturers out of business in the United States were failing in the UK and Canada!

This included the Loveday judgment in Great Britain’s High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division and the Rothwell judgment in the Supreme Court of Ontario, Canada, both decided in 1988, with justices ruling that there was “insufficient evidence to demonstrate that pertussis vaccine can cause permanent brain damage in children.”

Similar cases were succeeding in the US though..

“The number (and dollar value) of suits increased in 1982, a year when broadcast and print media began to devote considerable attention to the alleged hazards associated with the use of pertussis-containing vaccines. Most of the media coverage has emphasized alleged risks of pertussis vaccines and has given relatively little attention to the benefits of their use.”

Hinman on DTP Vaccine Litigation

Most experts knew that most of the lawsuits were frivolous, but they weren’t able to stop the damage that was to come, as:

  • the DPT: Vaccine Roulette special aired on TV
  • Barbara Loe Fisher, believing that her child was damaged by the DPT vaccine, formed the Dissatisfied Parents Together organization and wrote the book DPT: A Shot in the Dark, which later influenced Bob Sears
  • there were temporary shortages of DTP vaccine in 1984, as “two of the three American manufacturers of the product decided to halt or restrict its sales.”

What else happened? I mean besides all of the studies proving the DPT vaccine was safe?

Parents who had been scared by the DPT controversy were ready and primed when Andy Wakefield showed up and told them that they had something new to worry about – the MMR vaccine and autism.

And of course, pertussis is now returning, as more parents are scared to vaccinate their kids and the newer DTaP vaccine isn’t as effective as DPT.

More on Those Lawsuits That Almost Put Vaccine Manufacturers out of Business

What Did Thomas Jefferson Say About Vaccines?

A lot of folks are quoting the Founding Fathers these days when they talk about vaccines.

“Thomas Jefferson has a quote, he says ‘He who sacrifices Liberty for security deserves neither.’ And I think that’s really important and fundamentally true.”

Isaac Lindenberger

Wait, that quote sounds familiar.

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

Sen. Rand Paul used it during the Senate hearing that featured Isaac’s brother Ethan Lindenberger. Only Rand Paul correctly attributed the quote to Benjamin Franklin, even though the quote doesn’t really mean what he thinks it means…

What Did Thomas Jefferson Say About Vaccines?

So what about Thomas Jefferson, did he have anything to say about vaccines?

“I have received a copy of the evidence at large respecting the discovery of the vaccine inoculation which you have been pleased to send me, and for which I return you my thanks. Having been among the early converts, in this part of the globe, to its efficiency, I took an early part in recommending it to my countrymen.  I avail myself of this occasion of rendering you a portion of the tribute of gratitude due to you from the whole human family.  Medicine has never before produced any single improvement of such utility.  Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood was a beautiful addition to our knowledge of the animal economy, but on a review of the practice of medicine before and since that epoch, I do not see any great amelioration which has been derived from that discovery.  You have erased from the calendar of human afflictions one of its greatest.  Yours is the comfortable reflection that mankind can never forget that you have lived.  Future nations will know by history only that the loathsome small-pox has existed and by you has been extirpated.

Accept my fervent wishes for your health and happiness and assurances of the greatest respect and consideration.”

Thomas Jefferson

While anti-vaccine folks shouldn’t be invoking the name of Benjamin Franklin, they certainly shouldn’t be throwing Thomas Jefferson’s name around.

Not only did he support and praise Edward Jenner, Jefferson did his own smallpox vaccine trials!

What Did Thomas Jefferson Say About Vaccines?

The History of Vaccine Exemptions

As we are starting to see some states get rid of their exemptions with new vaccine laws, it is important to understand that many non-medical exemptions came on the scene relatively recently.

After vaccine mandates to start school helped eliminate measles in the United States, over just a few years, from 1998 to 2000, 15 states added personal belief vaccine exemptions. Texas and Arkansas added theirs a little later, during the 2003-04 school year.

The History of Vaccine Exemptions

What happened in 1998 that made state lawmakers in 15 states allow parents to use personal belief vaccine exemptions to opt out of vaccinating and protecting their kids?

Andrew Wakefield happened in 1998...
Andrew Wakefield happened in 1998…

Oh yeah, that’s when Andrew Wakefield published his infamous paper in Lancet that was later retracted.

That’s right, these exemptions had their origins in perhaps the biggest anti-vaccine myth of them all!

Not that there weren’t warnings. Many of us knew adding the exemptions was a bad idea at the time…

The Austin American Statesman published an editorial in 2003 urging Legislators to fix the mess they had just created.
The Austin American Statesman published an editorial in 2003 urging Legislators to fix the mess they had just created.

And now, here we are with rising rates of vaccine-preventable disease as folks use and abuse their exemptions.

So while you are thinking about whether or not your state legislators should be taking away your personal belief vaccine exemption, a better question would likely be why they added them in the first place.

More on the History of Vaccine Exemptions