Thursday, November 14th, 2013
William Pollack, a medical researcher who worked at the Ortho Pharmaceutical Company in Raritan, N.J., in the early 1960s, has died at age 87. While Pollack’s is not a household name, he is responsible for helping to develop the vaccine against Rh disease, an illness caused by seemingly minor differences in the blood types of pregnant women and their fetuses. Pregnant women today are routinely tested for Rh status, and if they are Rh negative, they receive the vaccine so their bodies will not mistakenly attack their babies’ cells if the babies are Rh positive. More on Pollack and his work from The New York Times:
Rh disease occurs when a pregnant woman is Rh negative and her fetus is Rh positive. In the mixing of blood between the two during pregnancy, the mother’s Rh-negative blood cells produce antibodies that attack the blood cells of the fetus. Depending on the strength of the mother’s immune response, the effects on the baby can range from mild anemia to stillbirth.
Dr. Pollack and his partners devised an “ingenious” counterattack, as it was described in an introduction to their work in “Hematology: Landmark Papers of the Twentieth Century,” a collection published in 2000 by hematologist organizations.
The three men produced a vaccine that patrols the mother’s body, dispatches invading Rh-positive cells and causes no harm to the fetus. The vaccine was made from a passive Rh-negative antibody, which soon wears out. It not only solves the mother’s temporary immunity problem but also, more important, prevents her immune system from mounting a full-fledged response of its own, which would endanger the fetus she was carrying as well as any future ones.
“It was an absolutely brilliant idea,” said Dr. Richard L. Berkowitz, the obstetrics and gynecology director of resident education at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital. “A lot of people know who Jonas Salk is, but they should know William Pollack’s name, too. This disease was a major, major problem, and it’s been virtually eradicated.”
Researchers had developed other approaches to treating Rh blood disease, including potentially dangerous intrauterine transfusions, before the idea of a vaccine emerged. Among his other contributions, Dr. Pollack was credited with devising the process in which the blood components needed to make the vaccine are isolated and recombined in a liquid solution.
Image: Vaccine, via Shutterstock
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Friday, November 9th, 2012
A recent clinical trial involving African infants ages 6–12 weeks revealed that a potential malaria vaccine was only 30% effective in reducing episodes of the disease, Reuters reports. The mosquito-borne illness infected about 216 million people worldwide in 2010. Other control measures such as insecticide-treated bug netting have decreased malaria-related deaths in recent years, and scientists hoped that the vaccine, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix, would continue to cut infection and mortality rates. Philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates helped fund the development, and calls for further research. If effective, the vaccine would likely be added to routine infant immunizations in the most-impacted countries.
Image: Newborn via Shutterstock.
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Friday, August 24th, 2012
Last school year, most kindergarteners in the United States received the recommended vaccines for measles and other diseases, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But the CDC also warned that pockets of unvaccinated children could set the stage for disease outbreaks.
Last year, there were 17 outbreaks of measles and 222 measles cases in the United States, the highest since 1996, the CDC said.
Most of the cases involved unvaccinated patients who contracted measles in other countries, highlighting the importance of high vaccination rates among U.S. school children, said Dr. Melinda Wharton, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
“It is of concern when we have these communities in the United States where there’s enough people who have made this decision [not to vaccinate] that if the measles virus is imported from overseas, that it could actually spread and cause an outbreak,” Wharton said.
All 50 states offer medical exemptions to vaccines, and some states provide religious and philosophical exemptions as well, Wharton said.
Some parents who skip or delay vaccines for their children cite safety concerns, such as the belief of a link between vaccines and autism. The CDC says research has not uncovered a link between the two.
“Based on all the science that has been done to date, and there’s been a lot of it, there’s no evidence that vaccines are a causal factor,” Wharton said.
Image: Boy receiving shot via Shutterstock.
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Friday, July 20th, 2012
Nine babies have died so far from an epidemic of pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced. The epidemic, which has been building over recent months, is now the worst the nation has seen in more than half a century, and the CDC is urging adults to be vaccinated to stem the tide of the bacterial disease. NBCNews.com has more:
The epidemic has killed nine babies so far and babies are by far the most vulnerable to the disease, also known as pertussis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. The best way to protect them is to vaccinate the adults around them, and to vaccinate pregnant women so their babies are born with some immunity.
“As of today, nationwide nearly 18,000 cases have been reported to the CDC,” the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters in a conference call. “That is nearly twice as many as reported last year. We may be on track for a record high pertussis rate this year,” she added.
“We may need to go back to 1959 to find as many cases. I think there may be more coming to a place near you.”
The last record year was 2010, when 27,000 cases were reported and 27 people died. In 1959, 40,000 cases were reported.
In 2008, whooping cough killed 195,000 people globally, according to the World Health Organization.
Image: Sick child, via Shutterstock
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Monday, May 14th, 2012
Anne Geddes, the photographer who is famous for her images of adorable babies, is speaking out for Shot@Life, an organization working to make vaccines available to women worldwide. Without the vaccines, Geddes says, babies are left vulnerable to preventable diseases including measles, pneumonia, diarrhea or polio. “After giving birth,” Geddes writes in an editorial on CNN.com, “we as women become members of the vast sisterhood of mothers — a universal oneness; a shared experience to which we can all relate.” She continues:
Ultimately Shot@Life aims to help save the lives of the 1.5 million children under the age of 5 who die every year from diseases that are entirely preventable by vaccines.
Please don’t be overwhelmed by these statistics — within your heart just imagine one child and one mother.
It is very difficult for any parent in a developed country to comprehend that $20 can save the life of a child. Put yourself in another mother’s shoes. If someone were to say to you, “I can save the life of your child for $20,” what would your response be?
Image: Anne Geddes postage stamp, via rook76 / Shutterstock.com.
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