Who was the greatest scientist of the 20th century?

Many would say Albert Einstein, some might suggest Stephen Hawking. But arguably, the greatest might have been a little known, modest but ill-tempered and often vulgar-mouthed virologist named Maurice Hilleman.

Hilleman’s twin sister died at birth, his mother died 2 days later. His father gave him over to his aunt and uncle and he worked their farm in Montana. For want of funds he deferred college until his brother returned from divinity school and convinced him to attend Montana State. He was raised in a deeply religious family and was observed to read Darwin’s Origin of the Species while in church as a teenager.

He went on to graduate school for microbiology and discovered that Chlamydia, previously thought to be a virus, was an intra-cellular bacteria.

Shortly after graduate school and at the request of the US military he developed a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis which was wreaking havoc with US soldiers in the Pacific during WW2.

He made a list of serious childhood illnesses and decided to devote his life to developing vaccines for all of them.

During his career he developed over 40 vaccines.

From Wikipedia:

Of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended in current American vaccine schedules, he developed eight: those for measlesmumpshepatitis Ahepatitis BchickenpoxNeisseria meningitidisStreptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria.[2][4] He also played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses, and the potentially cancer-causing[5] virus SV40.

The story of the mumps vaccine is fascinating. His daughter developed mumps. He swabbed her throat, took the sample to his lab and cultured the virus in chicken embryo cells. Over 2 years he developed a series of virus mutations in successive dishes of embryo cells. Each virus culture became less virulent for humans. This had never been done before. Eventually, he had a “live-attenuated” virus that could be used for human vaccination.

His work was performed under what would now be considered primitive scientific conditions but it was state of the art for his time.

It has been estimated that his work saves over 8 million lives every year.

Paul Offit MD, Director of Vaccine Development at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia (U Penn.) a present day preeminent vaccinologist, spent 72 hours interviewing Maurice Hilleman when he was dying from cancer, to record his amazing history.

The folks who worked for Maurice Hilleman were intensely loyal. He was totally devoted to science and vaccine development. Yet on the day he died, Paul Offit walked into a room filled with pediatricians where he was giving a lecture and not one pediatrician knew who he was or what he had accomplished.

From Wikipedia:

Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, once said “If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history.”[14]

After Hilleman’s death Ralph Nader wrote, “Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with MadonnaMichael JacksonJose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society’s and media’s concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic.”[15]

A documentary film titled Hilleman: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children, chronicling Hilleman’s life and career, was released in 2016 by Medical History Pictures, Inc

In 2007, Paul Offit published a biography of Hilleman, entitled Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases

Maurice Hilleman – NCBI – NIH

Maurice Hilleman | Nature Medicine

Maurice Hilleman – Wikipedia

In the context of the COVID 19 pandemic I will close with the usual summary.

  1. Avoid alcohol consumption (alcohol wreaks havoc with your immunity)
  2. Get plenty of sleep (without adequate sleep your immune system does not work well )
  3. Follow good sleep habits
  4. Exercise, especially out of doors in a green space, supports the immune system
  5. Get some sunshine and make sure you have adequate Vitamin D levels.
  6. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in micronutrients.
  7. Practice stress reduction like meditation and yoga which improves the immune system
  8. Eliminate sugar-added foods and beverages from your diet. These increase inflammation, cause metabolic dysfunction, and suppress immunity.
  9. Eliminate refined-inflammatory “vegetable oils” from your diet, instead eat healthy fat.
  10. Clean up your home environment and minimize your family’s exposure to environmental toxins by following recommendations at EWG.org with regards to household products, personal care products, and organic foods. (https://www.ewg.org/)


Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose, spend time with those you love, AND sleep well tonight.

Doctor Bob

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