“Dr. Hilleman created eight of the 14 most commonly used vaccines, including those for mumps, measles, chicken pox, pneumonia, meningitis, rubella and many other infectious diseases. He developed more than three dozen vaccines, more than any other scientist. His measles vaccine alone is estimated to prevent 1 million deaths worldwide every year.”
It is said that he had more positive impact on the world’s health, than any other scientist in human history. Few members of the public (myself included) had heard of him.
Reports indicate that Hilleman was also a mensch. He had a wicked, often self-effacing sense of humor. He freely credited others involved in vaccine development.
He almost didn’t attend college, for lack of money (this was before the GI bill).
If you take all the people killed by Hitler or Stalin and add them up, the vaccines Hilleman helped create saved more lives than they destroyed and all he will get is some out of the way obit. All the pain he helped avoid and avert and this is all he gets. I feel empty because I don’t know how to express how important this person was to anyone who would understand.
People like he and Norman Borlaug won’t be rememberd even though our lives and the lives of millions would be immensely different if it weren’t for them.
To be honest, I get a perverse satisfaction knowing that the greatest man of the 20th century is more or less unknown. In a world where celebrity counts for more than virtue, this seems fitting.
And I don’t feel too sorry for Dr. Hilleman: his colleagues and presumably his friends knew of his immense contribution, and he was blessed with the spiritual maturity to recognize that popular acclaim and maybe even bountiful stock options really don’t amount to all that much.
---- I sent a message to Quebec’s Commission de toponymie today, asking that they consider his name for future streets, parks, and so forth.
Outstanding idea. By honoring Hilleman’s life work, we encourage others follow in his footsteps in ways large and -more importantly IMHO- small.
Personally, I hope to give the man a sincere toast, next time I quaff a cold frosty one.
Does it really take death to make us aware of what we have?
In the wake of the death of Ashley Crouse there has been a lot of outpouring of love and support from her friends. However this love and concern was always there for her, it is just a question of whether Ashley knew it or not. We all have people in our lives who care about us primarily as human beings (and not as attractive people, or smart people, or wealthy people, or normal people or whatever label you want to use) whether we know it or not. People who do not really care how normal we are, how we look, or how much money we make. Their main concern is how happy we are, how healthy we are, and how at peace we are. A lot of us take for granted that we have friends and family who offer this nurturing love and it seems it almost takes a death for this kind of compassion and warmth to make itself public.
However another important death has occurred recently and it isn’t even listed in the IDS, the death of Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman. You probably don’t know who he is but he has saved you and your family from death and crippling disabilities. Dr. Hillman, a microbiologist by trade, helped pioneer vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, meningitis, pneumonia, chickenpox and about 40 other diseases. Estimates on the number of lives saved by his vaccines vary, but the number is easily in the tens of millions and would most likely reach over a hundred million human beings. In 1957 an outbreak of a deadly flu virus was about to attack the world and Dr. Hilleman, with his staff, worked 14 hour days to isolate the strain, and then found a vaccine for it which prevented an outbreak like the 1920 flu pandemic that killed 20 million people. Twenty million lives could’ve been lost, maybe your grandparents were among those 20 million who would’ve died had it not been for Dr. Hilleman, we’ll never know. Preventing an outbreak that would tear apart millions of families and cost millions of lives was just another day’s work for Dr. Hilleman.
For all these acts Dr. Hilleman was never famous, never beloved by the public, and never a celebrity. If you, your friends and your family do not suffer from blindness brought on by rubella or are not dead from measles then Dr. Hilleman is to thank for that. He asked nothing in return for his contributions to the world. It is hard to put into real world terms what Dr. Hilleman did for us but according to R.J. Rummel 180 million people died at the hands of government in the 20th century (mostly in China, the USSR and Germany) while another 70 million were killed in WW1 and WW2. While this is a travesty, it is arguable that Dr. Hilleman’s work saved over 250 million lives in the 20th century, meaning for every life lost in a concentration camp or bombing raid, another life was saved by vaccinations from measles or pneumonia. For every person injured or paralyzed from war or repression, another person avoided injury or paralysis from this man’s contributions. All this was just due to one man.
Perhaps no one will really recognize the importance of living in a world with people like Dr. Hilleman in it until it is too late. If there is a heaven, he deserves the best it has to offer for what he has done for me, for you, and for humanity as a whole. People like he and the Norman Borlaugs of the world make up a clique of amazing scientists who want to make this world a world worth living in, a world where you don’t have to fear starvation or disease and they ask nothing in return for doing this for you and me. All they ask is that we use the gifts they give us, and he deserves better than to be forgotten like this. This will probably be his only mention in the IDS or any other major news publication that is longer than a 10 second snippet (assuming this is published) but it is the least I can do to repay him.
Ashley Crouse is a student who died in a car wreck last week, after she died all her friends came out of the woodwork to talk about how important she was to them and how much they miss her.
(Well, no actually: the Good Doctor stressed that, “Colleagues make things happen”.)
Here a few links about Maurice Ralph Hilleman:
The Economist magazine chose him for their weekly obit:
(Google picked it up; I don’t know how long it will be online.)
(For some reason, I couldn’t find this via their search engine, at least directly.)
Wikipedia notes: “In March of 2005 the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in collaboration with The Merck Company Foundation, announced the creation of The Maurice R. Hilleman Chair in Vaccinology.”
There’s an interesting 1999 profile of Dr. Hilleman from the Philadelphia Enquirer entitled The Man Who Saved Your Life. I think it formed the basis for many of the subsequent obits.
Hilleman advocated that the US undertake a crash AIDS vaccine program, centrally coordinated, with teams of researchers pursuing different aspects of the unprecedented scientific challenge - not unlike the way polio was conquered in the 1950s.
“That,” he said, “is what you need for the difficult problems.” He also noted that malaria and tuberculosis vaccines were desparately needed.
What advice did Dr. Hilleman give to his fellow vaccine experts?
“Get the facts,” he said. “Create a committee of one. You’re it, so dig it out yourself. . . . Get the big picture. Minutiae clutter the head. . . . Hang in for the seven-day week. Interruptions are deadly.”