Milestones :: Perspectives

Milestones :: Perspectives

Julius Youngner, Polio Vaccine Pioneer, Dies at 96
New York Times, May 04, 2017 – By SAM ROBERTS
Julius Youngner, an inventive virologist whose nearly fatal childhood illness destined him to become a medical researcher and a core member of the team that developed the Salk polio vaccine in 1955, died on April 27 at his home in Pittsburgh. He was 96.
His death was confirmed by his son, Dr. Stuart Youngner.
Dr. Youngner was the last surviving member of the original three-man research team assembled by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh to address the polio scourge, which peaked in the United States in the early 1950s when more than 50,000 children were struck by it in one year. Three other assistants later joined the group.
Dr. Salk credited his six aides with major roles in developing the polio vaccine, a landmark advance in modern medicine, which he announced on April 12, 1955.
The announcement — that the vaccine had proved up to 90 percent effective in tests on 440,000 youngsters in 44 states — was greeted with ringing churchbells and openings of public swimming pools, which had been drained for fear of contagion. Within six years, annual cases of the paralyzing disease had declined from 14,000 to fewer than 1,000.

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Populism, Politics and Measles
New York Times, The Opinion Pages – Editorial 1 May 2017
One of the tragedies of these post-truth times is that the lies, conspiracy theories and illusions spread by social media and populist politicians can be downright dangerous. The denial of human responsibility for climate change is one obvious example; another is opposition to vaccination. A serious outbreak of measles in Italy and in some other European countries could well be the result of a drop-off in vaccinations caused by utterly misguided and discredited claims about their dangers.

Vaccines are among the greatest achievements of medical science, an easily and safely administered defense against once common and often deadly diseases like measles, polio, smallpox, whooping cough and cervical cancer. Yet fear of vaccines has spread over the past two decades, fueled in part by an infamous study published in the medical journal Lancet in 1998 and later retracted and completely discredited.

More recently, President Trump has added his voice to vaccine skepticism, like this utterly unfounded and irresponsible tweet: “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases!” In Italy, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) led by the comedian Beppe Grillo has campaigned actively on an anti-vaccination platform, likewise repeating the false ties between vaccinations and autism.

To these and other skeptics, the measles outbreak in Italy should sound a piercing alarm. As of April 26, the Italian Ministry of Health had reported 1,739 cases of the disease, compared with 840 in all of 2016 and only 250 in 2015. Of those stricken, 88 percent had not been vaccinated. The danger was not only to them: 159 of the cases were health care workers infected by patients. Yet studies show that 97 percent of people who receive the recommended two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine are fully protected. Most people today would not remember a time when measles — or mumps, or polio — were commonplace.

M5S may not be responsible for the entire outbreak, since vaccine skepticism predates the party’s rise. Yet the percentage of 2-year-olds given vaccinations has steadily fallen in recent years, from 88 percent in 2013 to 86 percent in 2014 and 85.3 percent in 2015. The World Health Organization regards 95 percent as the level to achieve “herd immunity,” at which point the disease poses no threat to the entire community.

Combating vaccine skepticism is not easy, because even the countless studies by innumerable health groups affirming that there is no link between vaccines and autism have failed to penetrate the fog spread by Mr. Grillo and his ilk. The Italian measles outbreak, unfortunate as it is, does give health authorities an opportunity to strengthen their case by pointing to concrete evidence of what inevitably follows when vaccinations drop off.

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Regional Director commits continuing support to Romania to stop measles outbreak and improve immunization performance
WHO Europe, 03-05-2017
…The ongoing outbreak in Romania has spread across the country since January 2016, affecting people of all ages and causing over 4800 cases, including 23 deaths as of 28 April 2017. The highest burden has fallen on children, including 888 infants too young to be vaccinated. Of all cases, 96.6% were not vaccinated. Today, Romania is facing critical vaccine shortages or delays, including of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, along with a substantial drop in immunization coverage.

At the policy dialogue event, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, spoke of the government’s commitment to resolve the current vaccine supply shortage and ensure predictability, flexibility and continuity of supply in the future: “It’s a situation that can no longer be tolerated or accepted. It’s inadmissible for multiple vaccine shortage crises to occur in Romania each year.

This situation has caused suffering to those families whose children died of measles. There are no excuses for these tragedies, nor for the fact that for certain vaccines only 1 in 2 children are immunized”.

Minister of Health, Dr Florian Bodog, outlined the government’s plans to accelerate the response to the current measles outbreak through a far-reaching countrywide vaccination campaign. In the longer term the minister committed to:
:: establish an effective vaccine management system;
:: amend legislation regarding the purchasing of vaccines to keep the process transparent and predictable;
:: develop a multi-year plan for assessing the need for vaccines;
:: simplify pricing mechanisms;
:: build a national stock of vaccines for exceptional situations.

In early April 2017, the Ministry of Health introduced a new law on vaccination for public debate, which would make vaccination mandatory for kindergarten or school enrollment.

“We are open to dialogue and determined to work together to adopt the necessary legislative changes, adapting our legislation to the problems and conditions of our society,” stressed Dr Laszlo Attila, head of the Public Health Committee of the Senate of Romania during the policy dialogue on immunization…