The Two Titans of Science That Changed Immunization Forever
It's International Women's Day! To celebrate, we are highlighting the achievements of Margaret Pittman and Isabel Morgan - two titans of science that saved countless lives with their research. Immunization and vaccines as we know today would not have been possible without these two women.
These days we take it for granted that vaccine production, transportation, and delivery are all regulated to meet specific standards. However, that wasn’t always the case. Someone had to develop standards based on scientific evidence to ensure that vaccines are effective and safe for the recipient – no matter where they lived. One of the pioneering forces behind these standards was Dr. Margaret Pittman.
Through her Doctoral research, Pittman discovered that there were six identifiable strains of haemophilus influenzae type B. This discovery led others to develop effective vaccines against Hib. After WWII, she led the team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a pertussis vaccine and made history when she became the first woman to lead an NIH laboratory.
Pittman’s research and vaccination development took her around the world, including being the project director at a cholera research laboratory in Dacca, East Pakistan for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, a consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO) and many others. As her accolades and accomplishments grew, she became integral to developing better and safer standards for vaccines. Her dedication to health and safety through her research still influences present-day vaccination standards.
In 1952, there were 58,000 cases of polio in the US. Since then the disease has been officially eradicated in the USA. We all know Jonas Salk’s contribution and creation of the polio vaccines, but his work would not have been possible without the groundwork that Dr. Isabel Morgan established.
She designed and provided the first proof that a polio vaccine could be developed without using a live-virus. Live-virus vaccines are much more dangerous than a vaccine made out of a killed-virus, but it was believed that a polio vaccine could not be developed using a killed-vaccine. Her work shifted the scientific community’s understanding of polio and provided the path towards the vaccine.
In 1958, she was inducted into the Polio Hall of Fame, and is (so far) the only individual woman to be honoured for her research at the hall of fame.