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How a New Vaccine Was Developed in Record Time in the 1960s

June 22, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

It took just four years to get the mumps vaccine ready for market—but its development leaned heavily on groundwork that had been established during World War II.

The invention of the modern mumps vaccine is the stuff of medical textbook legend. In 1963, a star researcher at the pharmaceutical company Merck took a swab of his own daughter’s throat to begin cultivating a weakened form of the mumps virus. And just four years later, in record time, Merck licensed Mumpsvax as the world’s first effective vaccine against this common and contagious childhood illness.

But a closer look at the history of vaccines shows that this popular origin story overlooks the decades-long search for a mumps cure that began in earnest during World War II. And it overshadows the fact that during the 1940s and 1950s, researchers chasing vaccines for polio and measles made incremental breakthroughs in lab techniques that ultimately made swift development of the 1960s Mumpsvax possible.

The ‘Jeryl Lynn’ Strain

Dr. Maurice Hilleman, circa 1958.

At 1 a.m. on March 21, 1963, a five-year-old girl in Philadelphia woke her father, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, complaining of a sore throat. Hilleman, a prickly genius working at Merck, immediately diagnosed her with a case of the mumps, a generally harmless childhood illness for which there was no treatment, and sent her back to bed.

But Hilleman couldn’t go back to sleep—he had an idea. Another research lab had just licensed a measles vaccine based on a new technique for growing weakened forms of a live virus in chicken embryos. Maybe he could do the same thing for mumps. Hilleman rushed to Merck for sampling supplies, came back and swabbed his daughter’s throat, then drove the viral culture back to the lab.

The mumps vaccine Hilleman developed in 1967 from that late-night inspiration is still in use as part of the combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine given to infants the world over. In the United States alone, mumps used to infect 186,000 kids a year in the 1960s. Today, thanks to the vaccine, there are fewer than 1,000 mumps infections annually.

Perhaps the most charming part of Hilleman’s mumps vaccine story is that he named the strain of mumps virus used to make the vaccine after his young daughter, Jeryl Lynn. The same Jeryl Lynn strain is still used in mumps vaccine production today.

READ MORE: Pandemics that …read more


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Activist Bree Newsome removes Confederate flag from South Carolina State House

June 22, 2020 in History

By Editors

On the morning of June 27, 2015, activists posing as joggers signal to one of their comrades that the police have momentarily turned their attention away from the flagpole outside the South Carolina State House. Having received the signal, Brittany “Bree” Newsome scales the pole, takes down the Confederate flag that was flying there and is placed under arrest. Newsome’s actions reverberated across the nation and eventually resulted in the state of South Carolina permanently removing the flag from its capitol.

Newsome’s civil disobedience came just ten days after a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a bible study at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Newsome heard President Barack Obama‘s eulogy for one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as she drove to Columbia. In preparation, she practiced climbing and received advice from Greenpeace activists with experience scaling trees. As she held the flag in her hands, a police officer ordered her to come down, to which she responded, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” She recited Psalm 23 as she was taken to jail.

READ MORE: How the US Got So Many Confederate Monuments

Although the flag was flying again within an hour, Newsome’s actions had an immediate and lasting effect. Civil rights leaders and other prominent cultural figures spoke out against the flag and in support of Newsome, with NBA star Dwayne Wade and filmmaker Michael Moore both offering to pay her bail. The protest drew attention to the many Confederate symbols that still held places of public prominence across the American South, and this attention ultimately forced the state of South Carolina to act.

On July 9, the Republican-dominated legislature of South Carolina passed a bill permanently removing the flag from the capitol building, and Republican Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed it. Newsome later connected her actions to acts of civil disobedience from the first Civil Rights era, equating it to the way “that it demonstrated power and agency for the Greensboro Four to go and sit down at the Woolworth’s counter. ‘You’re saying we can’t sit here? We’re going to sit here.’ You’re saying we can’t lower this flag? We are going to lower this flag today. It was just a feeling of triumph.”

Diane Nash and Bree …read more