Flu Vaccine Heroes

Even today, different scientists work diligently to create new flu vaccines each year.
by M. J. Joachim

Research usually involves the cooperation of many individuals, working together for a common purpose.  True results take time.  The flu vaccine, like many research projects, took years to discover.  Several people contributed to the discovery of the flu vaccine.  Each development was an important step toward success.
Some scientists deserve credit for discovering the actual virus.  Others helped us understand how the virus works, while still others worked to combat the virus, creating a vaccine to prevent illness.  Even today, different scientists work diligently to create new vaccines every year, since the flu virus has the ability to change over time.

Flu Virus Identification

Richard Shope

Richard Shope was a doctor who was born in 1901, and died in 1966.  He spent much of his time in the laboratory, researching illnesses on animals.  He taught pharmacology and studied tuberculosis early in his career, at the University of Iowa.  Later on, in 1928, Shope began studying illnesses in pigs.  Conclusions from his work led him to believe that the flu was caused by bacteria.  

Through a series of experimentation, Shope and other scientists concluded that viruses, not bacteria, were responsible for the flu.  In one of Shope’s experiments, he injected bacteria and a virus simultaneously into his test subject, a pig.  From his results, he hypothesized that viruses, and not bacteria were the responsible culprit for the flu.

Richard Shope discovered the flu was a virus.

Christopher Andrewes, Wilson Smith, and Patrick Laidlaw

Andrewes, Smith, and Laidlaw continued research based on Shope’s discovery.  They were trying to relate the flu virus to distemper in dogs.  While this theory proved to be false, Andrewes, Smith, and Laidlaw were able to verify Shope’s hypothesis that the flu was caused by a virus.  They used ferrets in their experiments because these animals are highly susceptible to catching the flu.

Andrewes, Smith, and Laidlaw collected contaminated fluid from sick people.  They proceeded to inject this fluid into the nostrils of ferrets.  The ferrets got sick.  When the ferrets sneezed, they contaminated the researchers, who also got sick.  The flu virus was identified in the early 1930’s.

Flu Vaccine Discovery

Thomas Francis and Jonas Salk

Francis is credited as being the first American to isolate the human flu virus.  As the Director of the Commission on Influenza of the United States Army Epidemiological Board in 1941, he was able to conduct research pertaining to the different types of flu, A, B, and C.  During this work assignment, Francis was able to study the flu virus in depth.  This opportunity allowed him to draw certain conclusions about how to control the spread of illness.

Salk met Francis during this time.  He had come to the University of Michigan, where the commission was taking place, to do post graduate work in the study of viruses.  Francis and Salk worked together, researching a vaccine for the flu.  While Salk made many contributions to the development of the flu virus, he is given most notoriety for discovering the polio vaccine.

Through the course of several years, the flu vaccine was perfected.  Originally, in the mid 1940’s, the flu vaccine had a lot of side effects which included achiness, fever, and headaches.  However, by the mid 1950’s, Thomas Francis declared the flu vaccine safe for worldwide distribution.

The World Health Organization

Today, people depend on WHO, the World Health Organization, to monitor and control spread of the flu.  In 1947, WHO began tracking and monitoring the flu virus.  Each year, they collect samples of flu viruses from around the world.  Once collected, these samples are tested, and sorted.  Strains get separated into different types, locations, and names.  Researchers use this information to develop new flu vaccines in the coming year.  Many people are involved in research to prevent flu outbreaks.  Each one deserves credit for their efforts to keep our world population safe from the spread of disease.

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©2011, 2012 All Rights Reserved Teresa DePoy