When was the pertussis vaccine born?
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Bordetella pertussis was discovered in 1900 by two Belgian microbiologists: Jules Bordet and Octave Genou. They took phlegm from Bordet's son Paul, who had whooping cough, and subjected him to a Gram stain procedure. Looking at the phlegm under a microscope, they saw small pink ovals. They immediately suspected that these gram-negative coccobacilli were the cause of whooping cough. However, it took six years to figure out how to grow these bacteria in the laboratory so that Koch's postulates could be satisfied. Only in 1906, Octave Gengou and Jules Bordet, at the Pasteur Institute in Brussels managed to cultivate the pertussis bacterium using an artificial medium. Following this discovery, the pertussis bacterium was renamed Bordetella pertussis in honor of Jules Bordet.(1)
When the description of the Bordet-Gengou technique for the isolation of the pertussis bacterium was published (Bordet and Gengou, 1906), many researchers began to experiment with vaccines based on whole killed cells of B. pertussis. Such vaccines were developed and used in children by, among others, Bordet and Gengou in 1912, by Nicolle of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis in 1913, and by Madsen of the Danish State Serum Institute in 1914.(2) In 1914, the pertussis vaccine was listed in New and Nonofficial Remedies, a publication of the American Medical Association (Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry, 1914, 1931).
Madsen, of the Danish State Serum Institute, was the first to describe the use of whole-cell pertussis vaccine on a large scale(3). Although his vaccine successfully controlled two outbreaks in the Faroe Islands, his 1933 account reported two deaths within 48 hours of immunization, the first published report of serious adverse effects after pertussis vaccination. In the same year, Louis Sauer of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago describes minor reactions to a whole-cell pertussis vaccine used in the United States.(4)
Prior to 1949, the crude whole-cell pertussis vaccine was of limited use, and published medical research reported serious side effects, including deaths, following vaccination.(5-6)
References (click to open)
- Institute of Medicine. Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines: A Brief Chronology (Appendix B, pp. 320) In: Adverse Effects of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines. The National Academies Press 1991.
- NIH extension. Historical Record of Vaccine Product Licensing Holders in the United States. (Table H-1). In: The Children's Vaccine Initiative: Achieving the Vision. The National Academy of Sciences 1993.
- Madsen, T. Vaccination against whooping cough. JAMA. 1933 101(3):187-88.
- Sauer L. 1933. a. Whooping cough: a study in immunization. Journal of the American Medical Association 101: 239-241.
- Byers RK, Moll FC Encephalopathies following prophylactic pertussis vaccine. Pediatrics.1948 Apr;1(4):437-57.
- Brody M, Sorley RG, Neurologic complications following the administration of pertussis vaccine. NY State J Med. 1947 May 1;47(9):1016.
This article is summarized and translated by National Vaccine Information Center.