Diversity in Healthcare and Immunology January 19, 2015 By Caitlin Bradford Leave a Comment The third Monday in January marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day (or Civil Rights Day), and it provides a wonderful opportunity to look at diversity and what it means for all of us, even the healthcare field. With that in mind, today we look at four individuals of different backgrounds that have had an important impact on vaccination throughout the years. Each of these individuals played a part, in at least a small way, in changing the world for the better and helping more people have access to life-saving treatments that may not have otherwise been available. Wan Quan Although Wan Quan was not a medical innovator, per se, he was a major advocate for vaccination, and he was one of the few doctors who wrote about inoculation and vaccination in ancient China. Some Sanskrit documents are believed to reference smallpox inoculation as far back as 1000 BC, but it was Wan Quan’s “Douzhen Xinfa,” published in 1549, that first gave us official evidence of variolation being used as a vaccination technique in China. The method he discusses later became the standard around the world. Although not technically a vaccination, variolation saved millions of lives and became a key component in events like the American Revolution, centuries after Wan Quan’s death. Mary Wortley Montagu We have Wan Quan to thank for letting us know that variolation existed in early times, but it was this English noblewoman who first brought the technique of variolation to Western Europe. Lady Montagu was married to the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and, while living overseas, she came in contact with the inoculation process. Having lost her brother to smallpox and still bearing the scars of the disease herself, Lady Montagu soon had her son inoculated against the disease and brought the technique back to England with her. Because variolation used a live virus to inoculate, many claimed it was unhealthy and could lead to greater spread of smallpox, but, as time passed, these fears were dampened. By 1754, variolation had become a standard practice in the UK. Lady Montagu was also an inspiration for Edward Jenner who went on to develop a smallpox vaccine and is known as “the father of immunology.” Louis T. Wright An African-American born in the deep South, Wright faced many challenges during his life, most of them racially motivated. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1915, Wright moved back to Georgia but soon found his plans for practicing medicine interrupted by World War I. During the war, he was a key figure in the introduction of intradermal vaccinations for troops, and he was awarded the Purple Heart after a gas attack occurred where he was stationed. Throughout his life, Wright fought for equality in healthcare and general public life. A frequent leader in struggles against segregation, he hoped to see hospitals where anyone could get the proper care from highly trained professionals, no matter the person’s race. Wright was also a major inspiration for his daughter, Jane C. Wright, who pioneered the use of methotrexate as an anti-cancer tool which is still used in chemotherapy treatments today. Jonas Salk Salk is most famous for his research into and development of the polio vaccine; however, he too faced a variety of challenges. After attending City College for a few years, Salk decided to go to medical school but was limited in his options. Cornell, Yale, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania all had quotas when it came to Jewish admissions, so Salk chose to go to New York University, where no such obstacle was in place. After graduating, he was given a research position, and, by 1948, he had begun research work on polio. However, it was not until six years later that initial field trials of the vaccine began. Within a year of testing, the vaccine was declared safe, and the first steps toward eradicating polio were taken. Notably, Salk never patented the vaccine. It is believed the patent alone would now be worth more than $7 billion. It has taken all kinds of people from a variety of backgrounds to help the fields of healthcare and immunology progress to where they are today. Surely, contributions from an even more diverse group of individuals will help us reach our future goals. What other diverse individuals have played a role in vaccine health? Tell us below or on the Passport Health Facebook page.