[Historian of medicine Bert Hansen has written on the early days of vaccination in NYC, and tells me this is probably a cowpox cultivated in calves and used to immunize people against smallpox. Reed had written to the Health Department a week earlier asking about the failure after several months of two samples of bovine vaccine he had made himself. Here’s two relevant photographs - http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=cowpox&w=99129398%40N00 One further note – by the end of the nineteenth century, it was known that something smaller than bacteria could cause disease, but the first actual virus was isolated by Martinus Willem Beijerinck in 1898; hence the terminology used in this letter is imprecise to modern readers.]
Curatorial Records: Numbered Correspondence 1903
Centre, Elm, White & Franklin Streets,.
(Criminal Court Building)
Office of the Pathologist, and Director of the Bacteriological Laboratory.
New York, Jan 4th, 1897
Walter Reed, M.D.,
Curator U.S. Army Museum,
7th and B. Streets S.W.,
Your communication of the 28th ult. To Dr. H.M. Biggs has been received, and he has requested me to reply to the same. With reference to the statement made on the printed directions accompanying the package of vaccine virus sent you on Dec. 24th, I would say that this label was prepared at a time when the keeping quality of the vaccine virus produced by this Department had not yet been fully ascertained. As a matter of fact, we find that the virus preserves its potency unchanged for fully six months; not only does it not deteriorate in strength during this period, but its quality with regard to the number of bacteria present is improved. We have found it impossible to produce a virus absolutely free from bacteria, although we are able to assure the absence of pathogenic organisms. The bacteria originally present in the virus diminish as time goes on, and the age of the virus is, therefore, an important factor with relation to the number of bacteria contained.
Alfred L. Beebe
Asst. Director, Diagnosis Bacteriological Laboratory