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Hilleman: Saving Lives, the Greatest Vaccines of the 20th Century

Hilleman: Saving Lives, the Greatest Vaccines of the 20th Century

By |August 1st, 2017|Ed Talks, School Health|

Girl getting vacinated

With the 2017-18 school year fast approaching, I have been thinking about a conversation I had with school nurses regarding back to school vaccination requirements in Washington State. I then realized that seven of our State mandated vaccines for school, pre-school and child care entry, were developed by an American microbiologist whose life’s work has affected nearly every human on the planet. Work that continues to save over 8 million lives each year. How many know his name? Sadly, most of us do not.

His name was Maurice R. Hilleman. He was arguably, the greatest scientist of the 20th century and credited with saving more lives than any other scientist. While he is a little-known pioneer in vaccine research, Hilleman’s life career is an unparalleled success story of a man whose single focus was to eliminate childhood diseases, rendering many, totally forgotten due to the availability of childhood vaccinations. Hilleman did not stop there. During his lifetime he:

  • Developed over 40 vaccines
  • Developed 8 of the 14 vaccines used for children – measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria
  • Recognized and prevented the Asian influenza pandemic in 1957
  • Developed the first-ever vaccine against human cancer
  • Developed the first combined vaccine – Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR)
  • Discovered chlamydia is a bacteria, not a virus
  • Developed the Japanese encephalitis vaccine for the military
  • Played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses, and the cancer causing virus SV40

Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, once said "If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history”.

I was so astounded it lead me to do a bit more research on Hilleman through The Vaccine Makers Project sponsored by the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). This project includes two engaging and interactive components:

  • A biographical documentary film, HILLEMAN – A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children, and,
  • A school-based, multi-faceted curriculum.

According to CHOP, these educational resources introduce elementary, middle, and high school students to concepts related to the immune system, the types of agents that cause infectious diseases, and vaccine history and science. Lessons employ the 5E’s pedagogic model of teaching (engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration, and evaluation) and are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

I was curious about how this project could affect students, educators and schools in Washington State and found out the following:

First, CHOP encourages educators to utilize this flexible curriculum in whole or part to support learning objectives. Content can be used in a variety of settings including classrooms, STEM enrichment programs, homeschool sessions, museums, science centers, and science camps or clubs. The immediate goal is to provide teachers with the information and tools necessary to teach this scientific success story; however, it also equips students to critically evaluate the multitude of science-based topics central to how we live on and interact with our planet today.

Secondly, the documentary “Hilleman: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children”, is an award winning film that puts a face to vaccine science and seeks to engage audiences in the history of vaccine science and development. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Vaccine Development team hosted a screening of this documentary on June 7, 2017 in Seattle, WA. Washington State school nurses who attended the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) conference in San Diego, CA also had the opportunity to attend a film screening and discussion on June 30, 2017. For further information about this documentary you can visit The Vaccine Makers Project website.

In his book, Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, Paul A. Offit, MD notes that Hilleman felt he had escaped an appointment with death so therefore, made it his life’s work to see that others could do the same. Especially our children.


Hilleman — A Perilous Quest to Save the World's Children – Documentary Trailer

Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases. Paul A. Offit, MD (2007)

Vaccine Makers Project

Vaccine Makers Project Classroom Science Curriculumvaccine.chop.edu/schools

Washington State Department of Health Required Immunizations for School Year 2017-18 (K-12)

Washington State Department of Health Required Immunizations for School Year 2017-18 (Child care and pre-school)