FATHER OF VACCINOLOGY

Maurice Ralph Hilleman, microbiologist Philadelphia, United States (b Miles City, Montana, August 30, 1919), died from cancer on April 11, 2005.

Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV (the virus causing AIDS) has described him as “the most successful vaccinologist in history”, and he is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been quoted as saying that Hilleman had “little use for self credit,” and that his contributions were “the best kept secret among the lay public. If you look at the whole field of
FATHER OF VACCINOLOGY, nobody was more influential.”

His discoveries, which have been credited with saving millions of lives and eradicating many common childhood diseases, consist of more than 40 vaccines. These include measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, and rubella, which make up eight out of the 14 routinely recommended in current vaccination schedules. Among these extremely valuable life-saving discoveries, the measles vaccine alone has been estimated to have prevented about one million deaths. He also developed the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, the first vaccine to incorporate multiple live virus strains.

He earned a PhD in microbiology and chemistry in 1944. That same year, he joined the virus laboratories of E R Squibb & Sons in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he developed a vaccine against Japanese B encephalitis. From 1948 to 1957, he worked as the chief of the Department of Respiratory Diseases at the Walter Reed Institute of Army Research, where he characterized several viruses, identifying changes when they mutated. This work helped prevent a huge pandemic of Hong Kong flu in 1957. Due to identification of the flu as a new strain, 40 million doses of vaccine could quickly be made available in the United States.

He joined Merck as the director of a new department of virus and cell biology research at the end of 1957. He retired as senior vice president at age 65, but stayed on as a consultant, directing the newly-created Merck Institute for Vaccinology for the next twenty years. In addition to many other honors, he was also awarded a special lifetime achievement award by the World Health Organization. In an interview in the BMJ, Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “Maurice’s genius was in developing vaccines, reliably reproducing them, and he was in charge of all pharmaceutical facets from research to the marketplace.”

Ref: US National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC557162/

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