Hilleman

(Maurice Ralph Hilleman, US-American microbiologist) Most of us were much surprised by how swiftly the first vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 had been developed. Some contended that such a prompt response to a virus had never been seen before. – Which is what I, too, had thought until I learned about Maurice Hilleman and his feats in Niall Ferguson’s new book »Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe«. In 1957, Hilleman and his team managed to develop a vaccine against the new »Asian flu« influenza virus subtype in an astonishingly short time. Only in April, the first reports of an outbreak in Hong Kong appeared in US newspapers and even in late July the vaccine was available. Hilleman, after what I’ve read, was not exactly a pleasant boss. Nowadays, he’d probably never have become head of a department or been in that position long enough to achieve anything. But his subordinates back then seem to have had their own idea of what makes a good chief. Hilleman and his staff developed many more vaccines, among them at least eight that are still crucial. Badass, right? (Oh, I’ve just noticed that yesterday was Hilleman’s birthday, 30 August.)

Published on 31 August 2022

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Drawing: “Maurice Hilleman”