June 5, 1921 - July 8, 2010
Born in Newton, Massachusetts
Years of Discovery: 1950s
Helped Develop the Measles Vaccine
Also Lengthened the Tetanus Booster Vaccine from Yearly to Once Every Ten Years
In 1954 Thomas Peebles was a Harvard Medical School graduate working in Pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Boston when he was approached by Dr. John F. Enders, a Harvard virologist, with an intriguing proposition - would he be interested in joining Enders to work on isolating the measles virus? Peebles jumped at the chance. His first challenge was to obtain active cultures of the virus. He enlisted the help of students at a nearby school who were suffering from measles. But, the cultures turned up nothing more significant than cold sore viruses. So, Peebles asked a colleague, a mathematician, if he could take a culture from the throat of his eleven-year-old son, David Edmonston who was suffering from measles at the time. This time, he was successful and the "Edmonston strain" became the foundation for the development of the measles vaccine. Peebles worked with several others, under Ender's direction, over the following four years to develop the vaccine that was effective against measles.
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.
Later Peebles researched the tetanus vaccine, which was given yearly at the time. He found that the doses were as much as 2,500 times the amount needed. Then he demonstrated that a booster shot every ten years would suffice, saving lots of poked arms.
Written by science writer, Tim Anderson
Lives Saved: Over 130,000,000
Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases. It is spread by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.
The virus remains active and contagious in the air or on infected surfaces for up to 2 hours. It can be transmitted by an infected person from 4 days prior to the onset of the rash to 4 days after the rash erupts.
Measles outbreaks can result in epidemics that cause many deaths, especially among young, malnourished children. In countries where measles has been largely eliminated, cases imported from other countries remain an important source of infection.
No specific antiviral treatment exists for measles virus.
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
Thomas Peeble's Wikipedia Page
Enders Teams' 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