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The work of Dr. John Clemens, FSPH professor of epidemiology, was featured Feb. 6 in a New York Times article about scientific developments in stopping the spread of cholera.
Injected cholera vaccines were first invented in the 1800s and were long required for entry into some countries. But many scientists suspected they did not work, and in the 1970s studies overseen by the ICDDR,B confirmed that.
In the 1980s, a Swedish scientist, Dr. Jan Holmgren, invented an oral vaccine that worked an impressive 85 percent of the time. But it was expensive to make and had to be drunk with a large glass of buffer solution to protect it from stomach acid.
Transporting tanks of buffer was impractical. Making matters worse, it was fizzy, and poor Bangladeshi children who had never tasted soft drinks would spit it out as soon as it tickled their noses.
In 1986, a Vietnamese scientist, Dr. Dang Duc Trach, asked for the formula, believing he could make a bufferless version. Dr. Holmgren and Dr. John D. Clemens, an American vaccine expert who at the time was a research scientist for the ICDDR,B, obliged.
“This isn’t an elegant vaccine — it’s just a bunch of killed cells, technology that’s been around since Louis Pasteur,” said Dr. Clemens, who is now the ICDDR,B’s executive director.