When we think of America’s immunization pioneers, whose names spring to mind? Salk and Sabin, certainly…but how many have ever heard of Hilleman?
Dr. Maurice Hilleman may not be a household name, but in the world of vaccine development, nobody was more influential. Each year, 8 million children owe their well-being, and in many cases their lives, to this unsung immunization hero.
Dr. Hilleman, who died in 2005, was responsible for developing more than 40 vaccines, including measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, pneumonia, and influenza. His work literally changed the world and brought about the eradication of deadly diseases that were once routine perils for American children. He was also a staunch advocate for vaccine safety, working tirelessly to perfect ingredients and eliminate unwanted side effects of vaccines.
National Infant Immunization Week (April 21-28) is a time to celebrate Dr. Hilleman’s remarkable contribution. It’s also a time to highlight and recognize the ongoing importance of immunization. Indeed, it is ironic that vaccines are now so effective they may seem unnecessary, a natural, though dangerous, assumption. With polio and other diseases virtually eliminated, we don’t witness the terrible impact – children who need crutches because of different-length legs, for example, or children dying of pertussis, or children with permanent disability of the brain, kidneys or spinal cord. As the CDC notes, today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
If the rate of vaccination falls, the risk of epidemics rises and our children suffer. In addition, failure to immunize our own children threatens everyone else’s health. Immunization of the entire population provides umbrella protection to those with immunocompromised conditions who can’t be vaccinated. As I tell parents, “Do this for your child, and do it for your neighbor.”
We are destined to be complacent if we don’t remember the past. Dr. Hilleman would be the first to remind us that we cannot let our guard down.
To learn more about National Infant Immunization Week and ways you can protect your children, visit the CDC website.