Number one enemy of child infections
How did controversy in the UK over the MMR vaccine
affect the scientist who developed it?
|By Pauline Moffatt
Radio 4's The Vaccine Hunter
Dr Maurice Hilleman created nine out of the 14 vaccines
currently used to control childhood infection.
But his combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, the MMR has
provoked much controversy.
Dr Hilleman was head of vaccine development at Merck & Co in the
1960s when he developed single vaccines for measles, mumps and
His daughter, Jeryl Lynn, recalls how her own childhood
illness led to the mumps vaccine, the strain still used to
"I got up in the middle of the night with a sore throat and
woke my dad up.
He jumped out of bed, reached for the Merck manual and
seemed very excited about the whole thing.
"Then he swabbed my throat, raced up to his lab and started
developing the vaccine."
Dr Hilleman's ultimate goal was to eliminate all childhood
|It saddened him to see
that knowledge was twisted in such a way to play in the
hands of the anti-vaccine movement
Dr Adel Mahmoud
He also wanted the vaccines to be delivered to maximize the
chances that more children would receive them.
That's what drove him to find ways to combine multiple
vaccines into a single shot. He succeeded in 1971 with his
The MMR was introduced into the UK in 1988, but became
increasingly controversial following Andrew Wakefield's
study published in the Lancet in the late 1990s, which
linked the vaccine with autism.
That study has now been discredited, and Dr Wakefield faces
the prospect of serious professional misconduct charges.
However, the fall-out from the paper resulted in MMR uptake
rates dropping to levels which experts warned could lead to
a measles epidemic.
Dr Adel Mahmoud, President of Merck Vaccines, recalled how
this affected Dr Hilleman.
"It saddened him to see that knowledge was twisted in such a
way to play in the hands of the anti-vaccine movement and
not really appreciate what vaccines are all about.
"They are about protection of individual, but also
protection of the society so you achieve 'herd immunity'.
"Maurice believed in that and it really pained him a lot to
see what was happening in the UK."
Dr Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the
Children's Hospital Philadelphia said: "I think it's sad
that this tremendous achievement got taken up as a
controversial one when it was frankly never controversial in
the medical community."
almost mind boggling how many tens of millions he will
have ultimately saved through his vaccines
Dr Anthony Fauci
Story from BBC NEWS:
During his long career Dr Hilleman created vaccines for over
40 infections, including Influenza and Hepatitis B.
In 1957 he became the only scientist ever to make a flu
vaccine in advance of a pandemic, saving tens of thousands
of lives across the US.
Dr Offit thinks it's unlikely scientists today could repeat
"I don't think we would ever be able to make vaccine as
quickly as he made it.
"How did he do it? He basically ignored regulatory agency at
the time. He knew he was going to make the vaccine safely
and he got it done."
By 1981 Dr Hilleman became the first and only person in
history to use human blood as a source of viral protein to
make a vaccine.
Hepatitis B was one of the vaccines Dr Hilleman was most
proud of developing.
After his death in April 2005, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of
the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
said: "It's almost mind boggling how many tens of millions
he will have ultimately saved through his vaccines."
Dr Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the Aids virus, said: "I
don't see anybody coming to take his place, any time soon."
The Vaccine Hunter is on BBC Radio Four on Wednesday
21 June at 2100 BST.