This Day in History (10-Jan-1892) – Wildemar Haffkine, innoculated himself with vaccine against Plague publicly to demonstrate the harmlessness of the product

In 1889 Haffkine, former Vladimir Khavkin, a Russian Jewish, moved to Paris and started working in Pasteur’s world famous laboratory. His initial work on producing a cholera inoculation was successful. Haffkine then sought to test the vaccine under epidemic conditions. When Lord Duffin, ambassador to France and formerly viceroy of India, learned of his project he persuaded Haffkine to go instead to Calcutta, India, where hundreds of thousands died from ongoing epidemics. At first, he was met with deep suspicion and survived an assassination attempt by Islamic extremists; once stones thrown by the crowd broke glass instruments and a panic nearly ensued. Haffkine quickly pulled up his shirt and allowed another to plunge a hypodermic into his side. The curiosity of the villagers was thus aroused and 116 of the 200 peasants assembled volunteered for inoculation. None were to die in the epidemic, although nine of those who refused inoculation did.

At the outbreak of the plague epidemic in Bombay in October 1896, Haffkine was summoned to the city. He improvised a laboratory in the Grant Medical College and set to work on preventive and curative measures. A curative serum was tested in four months, but was not found to be reliable. Emphasis moved to a preventive vaccine using dead bacteria. A form useful enough for human trials was ready by January 1897, and tested on volunteers at the Byculla jail the next month. Recognition followed quickly. Aga Khan provided a building to house Haffkine’s “Plague Research Laboratory” and other prominent citizens of Bombay supported his researches. However, the medical community was not very sympathetic towards him. In 1902 the vaccine apparently caused nineteen cases of tetanus. An inquiry commission indicted Haffkine, who was relieved of the position of the Director of the Plague Laboratory. A review of this commission’s report by the Lister Institute in England overturned this decision, put the blame squarely on the doctor who administered the injections, and exonerated Haffkine. Since the Bombay post was already occupied, Haffkine moved to Calcutta, where he worked until his retirement in 1914. In 1925, when the Plague Laboratory in Bombay was renamed the “Haffkine Institute”, he wrote that “…the work at Bombay absorbed the best years of my life… “.

Reference:

http://www.indianage.com/search.php

http://www.hafftka.com/bio/great-uncle.html

http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/3306.html

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