Dr. Paul Parkman, Who Helped to Eliminate Rubella, Dies at 91

Dr. Paul D. Parkman, whose research helped identify the virus that causes rubella and develop a vaccine that prevented an outbreak of the disease in the United States for more than 50 years, died on May 7 at his home in Auburn. NY, about 60 miles east of Rochester in the Finger Lakes region. He was 91 years old.

The cause was lymphoblastic leukemia, said his niece Theresa M. Leonardi.

Rubella, also known as German measles because German scientists classified it in the 19th century, is a mild illness for most patients, identified by a blotchy, often itchy red rash. But during pregnancy, it can lead to the birth of infants with severe physical and mental disabilities, as well as miscarriages and stillbirths.

When Dr. Parkman was a resident in pediatric medicine in the 1950s at the State University Health Science Center (now SUNY Upstate Medical University) in Syracuse, he once recalled, he was nervous about showing a new mother her stillborn baby from which he had skin rashes. later learned, probably resulted from the mother’s infection with rubella during pregnancy.

In 1964 and 1965, rubella – an epidemic that struck every six to nine years – caused an estimated 11,000 miscarriages, 2,100 newborn deaths, and 20,000 infants born with birth defects.

It is the worst outbreak in three decades – and the latest outbreak in the United States. The disease was declared eliminated in the Americas in 2015, although the virus has not yet been eradicated in Africa or Southeast Asia.

The rubella virus was identified and isolated in the early 1960s by Dr. Parkman and colleagues at the Walter Reed Institute of Military Research in Silver Spring, Maryland, and by a team of researchers at Harvard University. directed by Thomas H. Weller.

In 1966, Dr. Parkman, Dr. Harry M. Meyer Jr., and their collaborators at the National Institutes of Health, including Maurice R. Hilleman, revealed that they had developed a vaccine to prevent rubella. Dr. Parkman and Dr. Meyer assigned their patents to the NIH so that vaccines could be manufactured, distributed, and administered quickly.

“I never made a dime from these patents because we wanted them to be freely available to everyone,” he said in a 2005 oral history interview for the NIH.

President Lyndon B. Johnson thanked the researchers, noting that they were among the few who could “count themselves among those who directly and measurably advance human well-being, save precious lives, and bring new hope to the world.” world “.

Yet after Dr. Parkman retired from government in 1990, while serving as director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, he expressed concern that he called out the unfounded skepticism that persisted about the value of vaccines.

“With the exception of clean water, vaccines have been the most successful medical interventions of the 20th century,” he wrote in Food and Drug Administration Consumer, an agency journal, in 2002.

“As I look back on my career, I have come to think that perhaps I was involved in the easy part,” he added. “It will be up to others to take on the difficult task of maintaining the protections we fought to achieve. We must prevent the spread of this vaccine nihilism, because if it were to prevail, our successes could be lost.”

Paul Douglas Parkman was born May 29, 1932, in Auburn and grew up in Weedsport, a nearby village of about 1,200 people. His father, Stuart, was a postal clerk who served on the village school board and raised poultry to support his son’s education. His mother, Mary (Klumpp) Parkman, ran the household.

In 1955, Paul married a former kindergarten classmate, Elmerina Leonardi. She is his only immediate survivor. His brother Stuart and sister Phyllis Parkman Thompson died earlier.

Enrolled in an accelerated degree program, he earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-medicine from St. Lawrence University in Canton. NY, and his medical degree from the State University Health Science Center, both obtained in 1957.

In 1960, he joined the army medical corps as a captain. After working at Walter Reed as a researcher, he served as chief of the NIH Department of General Virology from 1963 until the department was absorbed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1972. There, as director of the center in biology, he oversaw policy on HIV/AIDS. testing and approval of a vaccine against the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and forced greater scrutiny of blood banks. He retired in 1990 as director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Dr. Parkman trained as a pediatrician. That he came to specialize in viruses was both fortuitous and inauspicious.

While stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, he was tasked with studying the seasonal flood of cold and flu cases among new recruits.

“A runny nose is not too serious,” Dr. Parkman said during the oral history interview. He got hooked on virology, but returned to Washington hoping to study a more stimulating subject than the common cold. He found it.

News Source :
Gn Health

Back to top button