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Vaccines, the WI-38 cell strain and 10 million lives saved: A conversation with Dr. Leonard Hayflick

Leonard Hayflick was described to me by Professor S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, in an email as a “living legend in the infectious disease world”. Dr. Hayflick is the creator of the cell strain WI-38, which has been and is still used in the development of a myriad of life saving vaccines.

Outbreak News Radio/Robert Herriman

I had the opportunity to talk to Leonard Hayflick, PhD for the upcoming Outbreak News This Week Radio Show. We discussed the history and development of the WI-38 cell strain, some of the controversy surrounding it and the vaccines that were produced because of it.

Dr. Hayflick also talked about the new paper he co-authored with Dr Olshansky in the journal AIMS Public Healthwhich estimated the incredible global impact of these vaccines since the early 1960s.

To see the impact of the WI-38 cells and the vaccines created, one only has to read the study abstract:

The modern success story of vaccinations involves a historical chain of events that transformed the discovery that vaccines worked, to administering them to the population. We estimate the number of lives saved and morbidity reduction associated with the discovery of the first human cell strain used for the production of licensed human virus vaccines, known as WI-38. The diseases studied include poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (chicken pox), herpes zoster, adenovirus, rabies and Hepatitis A. The number of preventable cases and deaths in the U.S. and across the globe was assessed by holding prevalence rates and disease-specific death rates constant from 1960–2015. Results indicate that the total number of cases of poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A averted or treated with WI-38 related vaccines was 198 million in the U.S. and 4.5 billion globally (720 million in Africa; 387 million in Latin America and the Caribbean; 2.7 billion in Asia; and 455 million in Europe). The total number of deaths averted from these same diseases was approximately 450,000 in the U.S., and 10.3 million globally (1.6 million in Africa; 886 thousand in Latin America and the Caribbean; 6.2 million in Asia; and 1.0 million in Europe).

I also got Dr. Hayflick’s thoughts on the dangerous and growing anti-vaccine movement.

LISTEN to the entire interview below:

The Outbreak News This Week Radio Show, the first and only radio program dedicated to infectious disease and health news and information, airs every Sunday at 8 pm ET in the Tampa Bay area on AM 1380 The Biz and online at http://1380thebiz.com/

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