Early in 1942, the Surgeon General's Office began getting reports of infectious hepatitis among troops stationed in the
western U.S. Because the yellow fever vaccine developed by the Rockefeller laboratory in 1937 (using human blood serum) had
sporadically produced such problems, and because the International Health Division had been producing all of the yellow fever
vaccine administered to American troops, Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Bauer went to investigate immediately. In this letter, Sawyer
was still optimistic that the hepatitis cases were not vaccine related. After several months of exhaustive study, however,
it became clear that several lots of the vaccine had been contaminated, making for a very awkward episode for Sawyer and the
A 200 page report of the study was published in the American Journal of Hygiene, Volumes 39-40, in 1944.
Item is handwritten.
Number of Image Pages:
4 (169,650 Bytes)
1942-03-24 (March 24, 1942)
Sawyer, Wilbur A.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Yellow Fever Vaccine
Controlling Disease during World War II, 1939-1944
It seems like old times to be out on an epidemiological investigation in California. And what an epidemic! We expect to
show that the vaccine had nothing to do with it, but we had a tense time until the bulletins began to come in from Seattle
and the southeast showing that the same vaccine lots had not been followed with jaundice in those countries. Now we are beginning
to find cases in civilians who were
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never vaccinated, and we hope to trace the epidemic from its approximate place of origin in Southern California. The best
thing is that the cases are very mild and most of the patients are in bed only because they were told to stay there. It's
fine to work with these picked young boys.
Poppies are out and also lupines. The weather is fine, but cool, of course. We are well treated and are given every facility
including transportation in Army cars.
To-morrow we stay here to make visits and straighten out our notes. The next day, Thursday
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the 26th, we start early in two Army cars for Fort Ord and from there we go on to Los Angeles, Pasadena, Barstow, etc., to
straighten out the tangled information. My group consists of Karl Meyer, Bauer, Eaton, but army officers will help in their
own areas. The investigation is an activity of the Commission on Tropical Diseases of which I am Chairman. I do hope we
can do a creditable and conclusive piece of work and at the same time contribute something on the etiology of infectious jaundice.
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Give Billibup a kiss for me and deliver my love to all. Circumstances compelled me to move fast when I arrived but the pace
should soon slow down a little.
It may still be weeks before I reach home, but I will come as soon as I can bring this important investigation to an end.
I saw Miss Ida May Stevens to day and to-morrow I shall spend the forenoon in Berkeley.