You know who developed the whooping cough vaccine? No neither did I until I looked it up. Pearl Kendrick.
In 1893, when Pearl Kendrick was a three-year-old growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, she was struck with a case of whooping cough – known as pertussis to scientists, named after the bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) that causes it. Four and one-half decades later she would have her revenge, developing the first effective vaccine to combat the ravenous disease.
Measles, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria, polio… These are all dreadful diseases, but none claimed as many young lives in the United States in the 1920s as whooping cough.
At its height, whooping cough claimed over 6,000 lives each year in the United States. Remarkably, during the 1940s, it was responsible for the deaths of more infants than polio, measles, tuberculosis, and all other childhood diseases combined. Chicago officials were so alarmed they required infected children, following a two-week quarantine period, to be accompanied by an attendant and to wear a yellow armband with the words “Whooping Cough” written in large black letters on it.
Kendrick got a PhD in microbiology at Johns Hopkins and developed an effective vaccine.
And guess what else.
In 1936, in desperate need of additional funds to continue her work, Kendrick invited First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to spend the day at her laboratory. Mrs. Roosevelt may have found a kindred spirit in Kendrick, as the First Lady had begun to investigate the practice of using orphans in vaccine research. This practice appalled Kendrick, and she instead used the strong ties she built with the residents of Grand Rapids to find willing volunteers for her research. Mrs. Roosevelt spent a full thirteen hours with Kendrick that day – she later helped find the funding to add several workers to Kendrick’s staff.
No using orphans in vaccine research! Recruit willing volunteers instead!
This allowed Kendrick and Eldering to continue a large-scale trial they had begun in 1934, which eventually involved over 5,800 children. The results were stellar, with the children who received the active vaccine demonstrating a strong immunity. Kendrick also settled the issue of quarantine times, which were being hotly debated, with some isolation periods being as short as two weeks. Her research revealed children were infectious through three weeks but, after five weeks, over 90 percent were non-contagious. Michigan adopted her standard and set a 35 day quarantine.
By 1943, Kendrick’s and Eldering’s vaccine was in routine use throughout the United States, and by the early 1960s the rate of incidence of whooping cough had plummeted to less than 5 percent of the 1934 rate. In 1942, motivated by their concern of “lessening discomfort of the child,” Kendrick and Eldering combined three vaccines into a single shot, the Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine which became the standard vaccine nationwide.
So that’s Pearl Kendrick.