Conference Agenda

8B: International Scientific Research stays to fight against Infectious Diseases: Faith in Vaccines and Vaccination
Thursday, 09/Sept/2021:
3:15pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Dr. María-Isabel Porras-Gallo, University of Castilla-La Mancha
Session Chair: Dr. Marta Velasco-Martín, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM)


International scientific research stays to fight against infectious diseases: faith in vaccines and vaccination

Chair(s): Porras-Gallo, María-Isabel (University of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain), Velasco, Marta (University of Castilla-La Mancha)

When medicine became the new religion in the 19th century, medical knowledge and practice for curing and preventing infectious diseases acquired new value, particularly after the triumph of bacteriology. Vaccines were exalted as the right way to fight against epidemics like the influenza of 1918-1919 and poliomyelitis during the 20th century: the panel analyses the cases of Spain, Argentina, France, and Italy. At the same time, vaccine preparation and production were linked to faith in Western biomedical research which, as the panel shows, depended on interchange of knowledge between countries and thus on circulation of scientists through research stays.


Presentations of the Symposium


Polio control strategies and policies in France (1955-1968)

Caballero, María-Victoria1, Baylac-Paouly, Baptiste2, Porras, María-Isabel1
1University of Castilla-La Mancha, 2University of Lyon

At the beginning of the 20th century, polio became more visible, spreading over the Old and New Continent. The incidence of the disease gradually increased throughout the century to become critical after the Second World War. The two main polio vaccines were developed in the USA and allowed progressive control of the disease, or even its virtual eradication, in America or Europe.

While the history of polio control in the United States or in several European countries is overwhelmingly well-documented, very few studies have focused on the case of France, where Pierre Lépine developed an inactivated virus vaccine, quite similar to the Salk vaccine.

This communication deals with polio control strategies and policies implemented by France from 1955 until 1968. We focus on the role played by foreign research stays of main French scientists involved in the process and on one actor, the Institut Mérieux of Lyon, which was one of the two producers of polio vaccines in France with the Institut Pasteur. We’ll seek to understand how this actor mobilised the health community around polio; who were the other actors involved and which was the role played by foreign research stays of Pierre Lépine in the development of his inactivated virus vaccine; what interests Institut Mérieux could derive from this business; whether political, economic, or even socio-cultural determinants have had an influence in the fight against the disease; and ultimately if the actions of Institut Mérieux had a real impact on polio control strategies and policies in France.


“Dear Albert, Caro Augusto”: notes on the introduction of Sabin vaccine in Italy

Brancaccio, Maria Teresa
University of Maastricht

The introduction of the Sabin’s oral polio vaccine (OPV) in Italy was a lengthy and complex process that pitted a group of renowned academic virologists and a pharmaceutical company against the Ministry of Health. The paper makes use of the correspondence between Albert Sabin and some Italian scientists, in particular Augusto Giovanardi, and of other primary sources to shed light on the scientific and political contingencies that framed the process of polio vaccine innovation in Italy between the second half of the 1950s and the early 1960s. The paper deals especially with aspects of this process that have so far been overlooked, namely the emergence and development of an informal international cooperation between Albert Sabin’s laboratory in Cincinnati and a group of scientists working in Italian public and private laboratories, the political and economic contingencies that led the Ministry of Health to obstacle experimentation with and production of OPV in Italy, and the political changes that led to introduction of OPV in anti-polio vaccination campaign in 1964.


The Argentinian Bacteriological Institute and the vaccine against Spanish influenza. Initiatives in the peripheries of science (1918-1919)

Carbonetti, Adrián
National University of Córdoba (Argentina)

Between the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth the governing élite of Argentina undertook a process to encourage scientific activity by the creation of institutes dedicated to research, and by the hiring of foreign scientists, particularly from Europe. Among these institutions was the creation, in the early twentieth century, of the Bacteriological Institute, a body dedicated to research into infectious diseases and the preparation of treatments to cure or prevent them. The Director of the Institute, not long after its inception, was Rudolf Kraus, a physician from Bohemia who had studied at the Pasteur Institute and the Hamburg Institute for Maritime and Tropical Diseases. When the Spanish flu reached Argentina the country’s physicians and scientists set to work to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. The team headed by Kraus to prepare a vaccine and a serum to fight the disease based its work on a considerable number of etiological studies that had been carried out in the main countries of western science (USA, France, Great Britain, Spain). From these studies, investigations were carried out enabling the development of a serum and a vaccine. Our presentation aims to analyse the links and networks generated, especially by Kraus and Penna, with European and American scientists; the incorporation of the knowledge that reached Argentina; and the procedures that they brought about. The study will be carried out through analysis of state documentation, articles by doctors who studied the disease and methods of treatment, and the press.