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Stanley Plotkin is Professor Emeritus at the Wistar Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. A renowned vaccinologist, Dr. Plotkin is, perhaps, best known for developing a highly successful vaccine for rubella back in 1968. We are still using the same vaccine 40 years later. Dr. Plotkin has been honored with the inaugural Maurice Hilleman / Merck Award for his lifetime of dedication to vaccinology.
For most people, rubella amounts to a bad rash and a crummy week, but for a fetus, the risks from infection are extremely serious. The rubella virus inhibits tissue growth in infected fetuses, often resulting in profound birth defects collectively referred to as congenital rubella syndrome.
Dr. Plotkin developed the rubella vaccine in the wake of a rubella pandemic in 1964, during which he estimates that about 1 in 100 women in his home city of Philadelphia came down with rubella. Nationwide, thousands of babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome in the wake of the outbreak. Thanks to the vaccine developed by Dr. Plotkin, rubella has essentially been eradicated in the U.S. and most other developed countries. In many parts of the developing world, efforts are underway to piggy back the rubella vaccine with the measles vaccine to eradicate both of these diseases everywhere else.
In this interview, I talked with Dr. Plotkin about the backlash against vaccines for their perceived safety risks, how he would change vaccine policy, and about the rewards of a career in vaccine development.
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