Over the next year, we have the opportunity to recognize some of the greatest public health achievements in history. In 1796, Edward Jenner introduced to the world the smallpox vaccine (and the term “vaccination”), inoculating an eight-year-old boy with cowpox (vaccinia virus) and later showing the vaccination to be successful when the boy showed immunity to variola virus. In addition to numerous other contributions to biology, Louis Pasteur administered an inactivated rabies virus to a boy bitten by a rabid dog in 1885 and demonstrated the efficacy of such a vaccine, pioneering the way for countless future immunization efforts. In the face of a global polio pandemic, Jonas Salk followed in Pasteur’s footsteps and developed an inactivated polio vaccine, and efforts began almost immediately to quell the epidemic (and hopefully eradicate the disease). In 1980, the WHO under the leadership of D.A. Henderson completed what Jenner began and declared smallpox eradicated, accomplishing what is arguably the single greatest feat in human history.
Little did these giants of public health, upon whose shoulders we stand today, know that they would one day be nominated for one of the highest honors to which man can be bestowed. They have the opportunity to stand beside countless other legends in the echelon of recognition reserved for only the most influential of figures. In the annals of history, the names Jenner, Pasteur, Salk and Henderson could be found right alongside the likes of Michelangelo; Cinderella; Admiral Ackbar; and Tank Top with Surfer Silhouette, Red Short Legs, Reddish Brown Ponytail and Swept Sideways Fringe Female Hair…immortalized as LEGO men.
Vaccine Heroes, a recent submission on the LEGO Ideas website, seeks to acknowledge the historical efforts of these public health pioneers in a series of LEGO vignettes. Jenner is portrayed alongside a fair-skinned milkmaid; Pasteur is in his laboratory, ready to vaccinate rabies case Joseph Meister; and Salk stands at his transmission electron microscope, working diligently on his poliovirus vaccine. The series culminates with a panorama of D.A. Henderson’s efforts leading the WHO Smallpox Eradication Program, complete with African scenery, animals and grateful natives. Keep your fingers crossed that LEGO is willing to produce a historically accurate bifurcated needle to complete the set!
The submission needs 10,000 votes over the next year to be eligible for production. You do have to create an account to vote, but just like a shot, the pain is minimal.
With the development of Ebola vaccines and the recent reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis and measles in the United States, now seems like an ideal time to promote the success of historical vaccination programs and pioneers. If produced, this LEGO set will provide disease nerds and children of all ages with inspiration to investigate and celebrate these public health success stories!
D.A. and the WHO may have been counting down to zero, but we’re all counting up to 10,000! Let’s get this project going viral!