Category: History of Vaccines

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

While the idea of chickenpox and measles parties now seems ridiculous to most people, in the pre-vaccine era, it might not have been so strange. Since getting these diseases was inevitable, it might make some sense to try and control when your kids got sick. Did did pediatricians actually encourage parents to have measles parties?

Did Pediatricians Ever Encourage Parents to Have Measles Parties?

Some folks think they have evidence that they did!

This is not evidence for measles parties...
This is not evidence for measles parties…

Wait, did they really have measles?

As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.
As most folks know, German measles is another name for rubella or 3-day measles.

Not exactly…

These kids had German measles – better known as rubella. Of course, that is not the same thing as measles or rubeola.

Measles vs Rubella

Why do we worry about rubella? Unlike measles, it’s not because it can make kids very sick, but rather because if a pregnant woman gets rubella, then it can be devastating for their baby.

The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.
The idea for rubella parties started in the UK in the 1950s.

That’s why some folks tried to get rubella when they were kids, well before they reached the age when they could become pregnant.

How did that strategy work out?

Many articles advocating for rubella parties (German measles) appeared in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of course, those rubella parties didn’t prevent the rubella epidemics that came in 1964-65 and caused 12.5 million rubella virus infections and “resulted in 11,250 therapeutic or spontaneous abortions, 2,100 neonatal deaths, and 20,000 infants born with congenital rubella syndrome.”

In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.
In addition to spreading rubella to pregnant women, at these parties, younger children could get exposed to other diseases that are more serious, like measles.

It was the rubella vaccine that was developed in 1969 that helped control and eventually eliminate rubella and congenital rubella syndrome in the United States. And eliminated all of the risks of the measles parties that some folks used to have.

More on Measles Parties

Are There Generic Vaccines?

We are used to drugs becoming generic once they have been around for a while, which may have you wondering if we have generic vaccines too.

“Who owns the patent on this vaccine?
Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

Jonas Salk

In addition to vaccines that don’t have patents, others have lost their patent protection, which typically lasts for only 20 years, so it seems like we could have generic vaccines.

Are There Generic Vaccines?

And we have.

Consider that once upon a time:

  • the Texas Department of Health Resources made up to 7 different vaccines
  • the University of Illinois made a BCG vaccine
  • the Michigan Department of Public Health made up to 8 different vaccines
  • Massachusetts Public Health Biological Laboratories (Mass Biologics) made several vaccines

These included many generic vaccines, including DPT and IPV.

In addition to Tenivac, made by Sanofi Pasteur, MassBiologics makes a generic Td vaccine.

In fact, the Massachusetts Public Health Biological Laboratories continues to make the last remaining generic vaccines, DT and Td.

Why Aren’t There More Generic Vaccines?

Couldn’t more pharmaceutical companies make vaccines, including more generic vaccines, so that they could be less expensive?

“In sum, although patent protection remains the major barrier to the production of affordable small-molecule generics, access to trade-secret–protected information and know-how present major additional obstacles to generic production of vaccines.”

Improving Global Access to New Vaccines: Intellectual Property, Technology Transfer, and Regulatory Pathways

Unfortunately, unlike drugs, patents aren’t the only issue when making a generic vaccine. You also need the expertise, investment, and studies to prove that your generic vaccine is as safe and effective as similar vaccines.

More on Generic Vaccines

Origins of a Name – Chickenpox

We know how a lot of diseases got their names, and it’s not always the kind of association that you might think.

For example, Fifth disease got its name because it was literally the 5th disease known to cause a fever and a rash!

“Measles is, he says, derived from the Dutch maseln (measles); the disease is also called in Holland mczsel-sucht, the measle-sickness; so translated by an old English writer. The literal sense is “small spots.”

Sykes On the Origin and History of Some Disease Names

And measles likely comes from the Dutch word for “small spots.”

So Why Do They Call It Chickenpox?

While that all makes perfect sense, one name that you likely don’t give much thought to, maybe because we don’t see it much anymore, is the name chickenpox.

How did we end up with the name chickenpox?

Did you ever think it was spread from chickens?

That it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus doesn’t really help understand the nickname. Nor does the fact that reactivation of chickenpox leads to shingles or herpes zoster.

“In 1767, an English doctor, William Heberden, realized two important things. First, he showed that chickenpox is different from the more deadly disease, smallpox. Second, he showed that once a person has had chickenpox, that person usually never gets it again (In other words, they’re immune for life). “

Case file: Blister Sisters

William Heberden wasn’t the first to study chickenpox though.

Was he the first to name it, in his paper, On the Chicken-Pox?

William Heberden doesn't provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.
William Heberden doesn’t provide any clues to how chickenpox got its name.

Probably not…

  • the Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text describes chickenpox
  • Giovanni Filippo Ingrassia – described chickenpox in the 16th Century
  • Dawud al-Antaki – talks about chickenpox in his book Tadhkirat Dawud in 1599, but considers it a benign form of smallpox
  • Richard Morton – also describes chickenpox as a mild form of smallpox in 1694
  • Thomas Fuller – wrote about chickenpox in his Exanthemologia in 1730
  • Samuel Johnson – described chickenpox in 1755 in his dictionary

So none of that really tells how why we ended up with the name chickenpox though, does it?

One big clue?

In 1886, Thomas Fagge claimed that the origin of the term chickenpox came from the word “chickpease,” because the early chickenpox rash looks like a chickpea…

One thing is clear though. Chickenpox has been around a long time, but fortunately can now be easily prevented with the chickenpox vaccine.

More on Chicken Pox

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.

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