Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who is Maurice Hilleman?

There are many fascinating stories about this scientist. Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society’s and media’s concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic. This is not a frivolous observation.” – Ralph Nader, April 2005, Scientists or Celebrities?

I recently received a book (Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases) from a fellow skeptic and it came with a strong recommendation that I read it.  I have read much about vaccines, vaccine controversies and the pharmaceutical industry but, on his advice, I read this book and, I must admit, it is an inspiring and captivating read.  The quote above by Ralph Nader was about Maurice Hilleman – the focus of the book – a man that, unfortunately, very few people know.

Ralph’s comment is truly telling about our society and what really makes a celebrity – we know who Paris Hilton is because of sex video, we know about some classless Jersey residents because of a reality show and yet few people know about a man who, during his career, developed 40 (yes, FORTY) vaccines.  Some of his vaccines are still used today – like the Jeryl Lynn strain of the mumps vaccine can be found in the MMR vaccine – Jeryl Lynn being the name of Maurice’s daughter.  He, as any good father would do when confronted with a sick child, had the housekeeper watch her, drove to his laboratory and picked up a swab (among other items), returned home to swab his daughter’s throat and, ultimately, created the world’s first mumps vaccine.  Though the vaccine was not able to help Jeryl Lynn (who made a full recovery), it has gone on to prevent illness and death for countless children.

In the vaccine schedule there are (approximately) 14 recommendation vaccinations – 8 of those were developed by Maurice Hilleman.  It has been said that Maurice Hilleman has saved more lives during his lifetime than any other scientist.  And you don’t know who he is?

I STRONGLY recommend that you get a copy of Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases – it is a moving and compelling book that will have you wondering how we, as a society, pick our “celebrities” and “heroes”.  Maurice Hilleman is a true hero and the story of his life is definitely a worthwhile read.

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