Historical Perspectives: Dr. Katz & Development of a Measles Vaccine

Contributed by Trey Nealey, Class of 2018

Samuel Katz, born in 1927, is a pediatrician most notably remembered for his role in developing a vaccination for the measles virus. What is so interesting is that he initially was not even interested in the medical field. He began his freshman year as a music major before deciding to leave and join the Navy. It was within the same year that the Navy discovered his aptitude in the science profession, and offered to send him to a hospital training school. He eventually made his way into medical school at Harvard where he began working in a lab with who he describes were the brightest minds he had ever been lucky enough to encounter. In 1955, during his third year of residency at the Children’s Hospital in Boston Massachusetts, Samuel Katz witnessed a breakout of the polio epidemic in Boston, which prompted his curiosity in the field of virology and vaccine discovery. Ironically enough, in a lab a couple of block away was John Enders, Nobel Prize Winner, who had isolated three strains of the polio-virus and is now heralded as the father of modern vaccines.


Dr. Samuel Katz

Katz was a key contributor when it came to developing the vaccine for measles, using cell-culture techniques, where he even tested it on himself to ensure its’ safety. Although he was successful in a laboratory, his greatest achievement was on the global stage. Katz was passionate about infants and children, and about reducing the occurrence of measles worldwide. He traveled to African countries to again assess the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, even in infants suffering from malnutrition, infections, and malaria. With his efforts, he caught the attention of the World Health Organization in 1978 and began a campaign to include the measles vaccine in the Expanded Program on Immunization, which at the time only included vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and BCG. This is especially notable because at that time, the World Health Organization estimated that 6-8 million children died per year due to the measles virus.

Mr. Katz’ was passionate about decreasing the incidence of measles particularly in countries with high mortality rates due to the virus. He served on committees for various groups including WHO– and in 2003 the World Health Assembly passed an initiative to reduce measles related deaths worldwide by 50 percent by the year 2005. He now works as a professor at Duke University and is still actively involved with research. A famous quote of his is that “One death is a lot if the death is in your family”. This goes to show that he cared for all people and shared empathy with countries that were under resourced. These states reasons are why he deserves a place in the history books. Not simply because of his devotion to science and discovery, but rather his passion for service and creating a better world.


Woodward, B. (2015). Doctor Develops Measles Vaccine–Then Tests It On Himself to Prove it’s Safe. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://scienceheroes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=206&Itemid=207

NFID. (2015). PIONEERING WORK REVOLUTIONIZES CHILDREN’S HEALTH [Pamphlet]. 2015 Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement Award Recipient.

(2008). Dr. Samuel Katz — What is Measles? Retrieved September 26, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ad_zjxsFUec



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