(dob - )
Born in the United States
Years of Discovery: 1950s
His Monkey Business Led to the Development of the Measles Vaccine
Sometimes it's the little things that pay the biggest dividends. Kevin McCarthy, a bacteriologist, spent his professional career studying single-celled microorganisms. His work was key in the discovery of a measles vaccine that ultimately saved millions of lives. McCarthy was a lecturer in bacteriology at the University of Liverpool in London. In 1954 he joined fellow scientists John Enders, Thomas Peebles, and others to work on development of a vaccine to fight measles. As other team members worked on various cultures of the virus, McCarthy turned his attention to tests involving monkeys. He first tested the monkeys, and separated out those who showed evidence of a prior spontaneous infection with the measles virus. He then inoculated the monkeys who had not had the disease before (were seronegative) with the team's passaged measles virus-these monkeys consistently developed active cases of measles. McCarthy's findings confirmed the viability of the passaged virus and were a significant step in the ultimate development of the vaccine.
Measles is caused by a virus and is one of the most contagious diseases known. The virus normally grows in the cells lining the back of the throat and those lining the lungs. The first sign of infection is a high fever lasting one to seven days. During this initial stage the patient may develop multiple symptoms, including a runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside the cheeks. A rash develops after several days, typically beginning on the face and upper neck, and then spreading to the hands and feet. Poorly nourished children are at an increased risk of contracting a severe case of measles, especially those who have a vitamin A deficiency or whose immune system is compromised. Childhood deaths are usually caused by the complications associated with measles. The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infections and severe respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, which is the most common cause of death associated with measles. In 2000 it was estimated that 6,000,000 people a year died from measles, mostly children. Now in 2021 that number is down to 120,000, all due to the measles vaccine. About 85% of all the children in the world now receive a measles vaccination.
Written by science writer, Tim Anderson
Lives Saved: Over 130,000,000
World Health Organization 2019 Report
- Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five.
- Measles vaccination resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2018 worldwide
- In 2018, about 86% of the world's children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 72% in 2000.
- During 2000- 2018, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 23.2 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.
Vaccines are Ubiquitous & Omnipresent Throughout Our Lives
It is bizarre that vaccines are controversial, when virtually everyone has had vaccines. The average person born today may get 70+ vaccines in their lifetime.
- There are 31 childhood vaccines (counting booster shots). Over 90% of people have received some of these vaccines.
Virtually everyone constantly benefits from vaccines
- Did you know that all beef, poultry, and pork you eat comes from vaccinated animals?
- And that all horses, dogs, cats, and zoo animals are vaccinated?
- Who wants to live in a world where you can’t pet your friends’ dog because it may not have been vaccinated, and may have rabies?
Links to More About the Scientist & the Science
Landmark Academic Paper
Measles Virus: A Summary of Experiments Concerned with Isolation, Properties and Behavior, American Journal of Public Health, Vol47, No. 3, March1957. John Enders, Thomas Peebles, Kevin McCarthy, Milo Milovanovic, Anna Mitus, and Ann Holloway
The Journal of Immunology Article on measles research co-authored by McCarthy