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today’s medical society we look at the world of medicine with different eyes due to all the technological advancements that are available, but sometimes we forget that the simpler and more primitive ways of doing certain things may be the best at solving solutions in the medical field.

It is difficult to combat a virus when you don’t know everything about it, especially when the virus keeps evolving and mutating into new branches that seem to be even more resistant. That is why we need to look at some of the simpler solutions that have worked in the past to get inspired towards finding a cure for today’s pandemic crisis brought by Covid-19.

The influenza pandemic from 1957 to 1958 was caused by the H2N2 virus. This virus was made up of three distinct genes that originated from the avian influenza A virus also seen in 1917. However, this virus also included hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes. The total death count of this short, yet impactful pandemic was 1.1 million deaths recorded World Wide. The main cause of death for those infected with this virus was pneumonia, similar to the Covid-19 virus.

Why eggs?

What is very interesting about this pandemic is that it was the fastest time for the American government to mobilize the U.S. medical institution toward analyzing the virus and finding a cure. Creating the flu vaccine involved injecting the virus into eggs, where it multiplied. The virus-laden embryonic fluid was then siphoned out, and the virus was killed. That purified fluid became the vaccine.

Jeff Cesarone at the Merck Sharp and Dohme plant in West Point, Pa., explained the process of creating the vaccine. (Source: Rare Historical Photos)

Eggs are very adaptive organisms that have the nutrients to develop other organisms such as a virus, making them very good at reproducing the virus. Not only that, but the egg as an organism was easy to control, allowing the easy annihilation of the virus from within the egg.

The use of eggs to reproduce the virus and create a vaccine was introduced by Dr. Maurice Hilleman in accordance with his research team from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Springs, Maryland. Credit must also be given to Jeff Cesarone who further developed the process to be more effective and efficient.

The world depends on chicken farmers

This even created a huge demand for farmers, as many of them had to give their eggs to researchers, rather than sell them to stores. The first batch of the vaccines produced with eggs was not 100% effective as it was still August, therefore the heat made it difficult to keep the vaccines under the right temperature.

The production of the flu vaccine in a lab at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, 1957. (Source: Rare Historical Pictures)

As the vaccine was found so quickly, most governments around the world chose to not set a lockdown, which made the number of patients affected by the virus multiply overnight. Therefore, the demand for vaccines rose overnight. However, this demand was limited by the ability of farmers to get enough eggs on time. Some of the eggs used in the production of the vaccine were even brought from overseas to cover the heavy demand.

The first people to be given the vaccine produced using eggs were patients from Dixon State School in Illinois. By the start of 1958, the vaccine was mass-produced and transported to most conner’s of the U.S., with other countries being helped at a later date in 1958.

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