Tag Archives: Vaccine

Jew of the Week: Waldemar Haffkine

“Saviour of Humanity”Haffkine

Vladimir Mordechai Aaronovich Chavkin (1860-1930) was born to a Jewish-Russian family in what is now Ukraine. As a young man, he was a member of the Jewish League for Self-Defense, a group that protected Jews during pogroms. In one such event, he was injured and arrested. His teacher Elie Metchnikoff, the “father of immunology” (and former Jew of the Week), helped to have him freed from prison. Metchnikoff was soon forced to flee to Paris, and Chavkin joined him there some time later. For a time, the two worked together with Louis Pasteur. Chavkin (by this point going by Waldemar Wolff Haffkine) initially focused on the study of protist species before moving over to bacteria. Following major outbreaks of cholera, he was determined to find a vaccine, and experimented on himself to do so. Although he was succesful, his work was not accepted in Europe, so Haffkine went to India. There, he vaccinated 55,000 people while surviving both malaria and an assassination attempt by Muslim extremists. India then suffered a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague, so the government asked Haffkine for help. He worked tirelessly for three months (during which time all of his assistants quit), again experimenting on himself, and developed a working vaccine. By the end of the century, Haffkine’s vaccines were given to over four million people in India. Europeans finally took notice. When Russia had a cholera outbreak shortly after, Haffkine’s vaccine saved thousands of lives. By this point, he had been knighted by the Queen of England, and described by Lord Joseph Lister as a “saviour of humanity”. Throughout his career, Haffkine had to battle anti-Semitism, and persistent attempts at converting him to Christianity. In the last decades of his life, he became deeply religious and committed to Orthodox Judaism, even writing a treatise called A Plea for Orthodoxy, and establishing the Haffkine Foundation to spread traditional Jewish teachings, especially among so-called “enlightened” Jews. Haffkine was also a staunch Zionist, formulating his own plan to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land, and negotiating with the Ottoman Empire to do so. Unfortunately, his plans were rejected. Nonetheless, Haffkine is immortalized in history as the inventor of the cholera and bubonic plague vaccines, and a man who saved countless lives around the world.

Words of the Week

Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
– Robert F. Kennedy

Jew of the Week: Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk

Jonas Salk

Jonas Edward Salk (1914-1995) was born in New York to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants. His own dream was to be a lawyer, but his mother pushed him to enter the field of medicine. Salk decided to do research instead of becoming a physician, driven by a vision to help all of mankind rather than just a few patients. However, because he was a Jew, Salk was barred from working at many institutions. Nonetheless, during this time he developed an influenza vaccine that was widely used by the US army. Eventually he found his way to work in cramped quarters in the basement of Pittsburgh’s Municipal Hospital. A grant from the Mellon family allowed him to build a proper virology lab. It was there that Salk developed the polio vaccine in the post-war epidemic that plagued the world. Before the vaccine was introduced in 1955, polio killed over 3,000 people and left over 20,000 paralyzed every year in the US alone! One of the most famous victims was President Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair for much of his term in office. It was said that “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.” Salk worked tirelessly to create the polio vaccine, labouring sixteen hours a day, 7 days a week. When asked who owned the patent he replied “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Salk received the first-ever Congressional Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. More significantly, his achievement inspired a dramatic increase in government funding of medical research. In 1960 he founded the Salk Institute, a world-reknowned centre of medical research. Salk also published several books, and is considered the father of the field of “biophilosophy”. He spent the last years of his life trying to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.


Words of the Week

A denigrating attitude toward others while inflating one’s own importance makes one lose all his spiritual gains, God forbid.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Hayom Yom, Iyar 20)

Jew of the Week: Rosalind Franklin

The One Who Revealed DNA’s Secret

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) The world’s most famous biophysicist was born into a wealthy Jewish-British family, well-known for their roles in founding the Jewish state and helping Jews flee from the Nazis. Her great-uncle, Herbert Samuel, was the first observant Jew in history to serve in the British government, and carried the title “Viscount”. From an early age, Franklin was noted for her talent in scientific exploration. Combining her knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics, she was able to produce the highest quality images of DNA and RNA, evidence used by Watson and Crick to deduce DNA’s structure, a breakthrough moment for science. Additionally, she discovered DNA’s two forms (A and B), designed an ingenious method to separate them, and unraveled the mysteries of TM virus. Likely due to high doses of radiation, Franklin battled at least three different types of cancers. But this wouldn’t slow her down. She continued working, publishing 13 papers and serving on the team that developed the vaccine for polio. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her illnesses at a very early age, and was unable to claim her Nobel prize (which is not awarded posthumously). She would become an icon of feminism, breaking the barriers of the then male-dominated world of science. Franklin’s work has been described as “the most beautiful x-ray photographs of any substance ever taken”.

Words of the Week

A person is obligated to say: The entire world was created for me.
– Talmud, Kiddushin 82b