Asian Flu Vaccine

International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 105 members receiving flu shots on December 12, 1957

Maurice Hilleman, expert in immunology and vaccinology, and his team at the Walter Reed Institute of Army Research discovered a new influenza strain, the Asian flu, after hearing reports of a severe flu in Hong Kong. After procuring a sample of the virus from a US serviceman, Hilleman distributed virus samples to manufacturers urging them to develop a vaccine within four months before he believed the pandemic would hit the United States.

Around two million individuals died from the Asian flu around the world. Without the vaccine, it was predicted that one million Americans would have died of the flu, but with the vaccine, only 70,000 to 116,000 Americans succumbed to the virus. In his career, Hilleman developed over 40 vaccines, including measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, pneumonia, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria and rubella.

The United States' virus preparation and the development of the vaccine was encouraging to investors, and the Asian flu outbreak was not cited by the media as a factor in the market turndown in 1957.

Learn more about Hilleman's contributions to influenza vaccines from the Vaccine Makers Project here.

See television spots that aired during the Asian flu pandemic encouraging vaccinations from the US National Library of Medicine: 

Image courtesy of the Kheel Center.