German Measles: A Safe Vaccine At Last?

Howard Simons

Editor's Note : In the March 1966 issue of the ICIB we printed several items drawing attention to the role of maternal rubella as a causative factor in congenital anomalies. The following article, reprinted from the New York Journal-American of April 22, 1966, describes the development of a new anti-rubella vaccine.

Hector W. Kay

Government scientists have developed what appears to be the first effective, safe vaccine offering long-lasting protection against German measles--the viral disease responsible for deforming thousands of babies.

Though the vaccine still is being evaluated, those who have seen the preliminary results of tests with humans cannot hide their excitement and optimism.

Credit for the long-sought vaccine belongs to Drs. Harry M. Meyer and Paul D. Parkman, research pediatricians at the Division of Biologic Standards, National Institutes of Health. Drs. Meyer and Parkman plan to present a formal report on their experimental vaccine to the American Society of Pediatricians in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 27.

German measles or rubella (to distinguish it from rubeola or red measles for which there already is a vaccine) is a relatively mild disease when contracted by children.

But when contracted by women during early pregnancy, the rubella virus can become a major killer and crippler of newborn. One estimate suggests that the German measles epidemic which swept America in 1964 caused birth defects among at least 20,000 babies.

Though full details of the experimental vaccine and its effectiveness will not be disclosed until next week, a hint of its promise is contained in the House appropriations hearings on the U.S. Public Health Service's budget request. The testimony, in early February, was made public here yesterday.

U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart told the congressmen at that time that the vaccine had been tried on a half dozen persons and "looked real promising."

Since then, it is understood, considerably more tests and other data indicate that the Meyer-Parkman vaccine may end the dread of rubella.

Hitherto, other German measles vaccines have been developed and experimented with only to prove unusable--primarily because the virus vaccine spread from the children who received it to others, including mothers and would-be mothers.

Not so the Meyer-Parkman experimental vaccine. This is because it is an attenuated virus vaccine, which means it is potent enough to offer long-lasting protection but not so potent as to cause transmission of the virus. Moreover, indications are that the vaccine causes neither rash nor fever after being given to children.

Howard Simons of the The Washington Post