WASHINGTON, D.C.--Merck Sharp & Dohme's live-virus measles vaccine will be made available throughout the United?
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Merck Sharp & Dohme's live-virus measles vaccine will be made available throughout the United States within 48 hours, the company announced today.
The vaccine was released for doctor's use today by the U.S. Public Health Service.
Supplies of the live-virus vaccine will be shipped immediately from the company's production laboratories at West Point, Pa., including air shipments to distant points. It will be marketed by MSD under the trademark 'Rubeovax'.
The MSD product is the live-virus vaccine discovered by Nobel Prize winner Dr. John F. Enders of Harvard Medical School and his associates in 1958. Scientists of the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories have played a major role in its development.
The advent of measles vaccine, following may years of research, at last provides a means of controlling this centuries-old affliction, which today kills more children than poliomyelitis and causes brain damage in many others.
In clinical trials with tens of thousands of children, the live-virus vaccine has conferred essentially 100 per cent immunity to measles, with only minor side reactions. Scientists believe this immunity will be permanent.
Immunization with this vaccine requires only one visit to the doctor. No booster shots are necessary.
An almost inevitable illness of childhood, measles attacks an estimated 95 per cent of the United States population. Although lightly regarded by many, it is in fact a serious disease--more serious than chickenpox, mumps, or German measles and of the same order of severity as polio.
In 1961, 510 deaths in the U.S. were officially reported to be caused by measles, compared with 120 by polio. Since fewer than a fourth of all measles cases are actually reported to health authorities, the true death toll of measles may be far higher. The effects of measles are even more serious in underdeveloped countries, where the disease may be responsible for up to 50 per cent of childhood deaths.
In one of its most severe effects, the measles virus sets off an encephalitis (brain inflammation) that may cause serious brain damage. The incidence of encephalitis is generally taken to be one case per 1,000 cases of measles--or close to 4,000 measles encephalitis cases a year in the United States.
About 40 per cent of these encephalitis victims suffer permanent mental impairment and often must be committed to institutions for the mentally defective. Indeed, the mental crippling of children caused by measles, although it goes relatively unnoticed, is comparable to the physical crippling caused by polio.
Although measles has been recognized as a separate disease entity for ten centuries, little progress was made in controlling it until 1954, when the Enders group successfully isolated measles virus--the now-famous Edmonston strain--and caused it to grow in the laboratory. This achievement enabled them to prepare experimental live-virus vaccine by 1958.
Major contributions to the subsequent development of this vaccine were made by a team of Merck virologist and University of Pennsylvania clinicians in field trials with more than 1,500 children in the Philadelphia area.
These were the first large-scale studies to show that the Enders vaccine confers immunity to measles (as proven during epidemics) and that gamma globulin, when administered directly after the vaccine, greatly reduces adverse reactions caused by the vaccine when used alone. (Gamma globulin is a blood component containing measles and other antibodies.)
Reactions to this vaccination regimen, when they occurred at all in the trials, were very mild--far less than those usually following smallpox vaccination, which is routinely given to preschool-age children.
Hence, the live-virus vaccine is recommended for use with immune serum globulin (human), or gamma globulin, containing a standard concentration of measles antibodies. Merck Sharp & Dohme is making this product immediately available also, under the trademark 'Gammagee'. Ample supplies are on hand.
The MSD production process for 'Rubeovax', devised after painstaking effort, incorporates elaborate controls every step to insure the potency, sterility, and safety of the finished vaccine.
An important element of the process was made possible through the co-operate of a leading poultry breeder, Kimber Farms, inc., of Fremont, Calif., which agreed to provide disease-free chickens from a rare experimental flock it maintains.
MSD uses these chickens and their offspring to produce germ-free embryos on which to grow the measles virus, thus avoiding contamination of the vaccine from the embryo source. The entire process is carried out under aseptic conditions comparable to those of a modern hospital operating room.
'Rubeovax' is tested exhaustively during the process; for every scientist and technical engaged in producing the vaccine, eight are engaged int testing it. This, in fact, is the chief reason the vaccine takes 137 days to make: 96 days are consumed by the testing alone.