Friday, March 27, 2015

Artifact Spotlight, History of Vaccines Edition: Istúriz Vaccinator

Today's artifact caught my eye while pulling items to display for a recent tour: It's a c. 1940s "Istúriz style" vaccinator kit, complete with vaccinator handle, tweezers, vaccinator tips and racks, as well as printed instructions in English and Spanish. The kit was designed to administer the smallpox vaccine in large populations.

Close-up view of the kit
The printed instructions emphasize the efficient, and relatively painless qualities of his vaccination process: "The operation is very quick in itself; no blood is seen, no pain is felt, and there is no reason for the operator to touch with his fingers, even slightly, the part affected."

Detail of the illustration in the kit's printed instructions (English side)

Dr. Jesús María Istúriz was born in Venezuela, where he received his medical training at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. In 1936 he was commissioned by the Ministry of Health to conduct a study of public health practices in the United States. He patented his vaccinator in the United States, Cuba, and Venezuela, where it was used for administering vaccines in both healthcare and agriculture.[1] Dr. Istúriz's 1937 U.S. patent application explains, "The object of the invention is to provide an improved technique and apparatus through which successive vaccinations against smallpox may be effected upon large numbers of persons, with great rapidity, without pain to the individual and with absolute safety against the infection of one person from another."[2]

According to the CDC, smallpox was eliminated in the United States in 1949, and the last naturally occurring case in the world was in Somalia in 1977. As a result, routine vaccination against smallpox was deemed no longer necessary.[3] Today, the United States currently maintains enough vaccine to vaccinate everyone in the country in the case of a smallpox emergency. 

Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been effectively eradicated from the world. But Dr. Istúriz's larger concern of providing efficient, safe vaccination of populations is still a matter of urgency for world public health officials: The World Health Organization's World Immunization Week 2015 is coming up on April 24-30, 2015, with the theme, "Close the immunization gap," a focus on providing equitable access to vaccines worldwide under the Global Vaccine Action Plan of 2012. Under GVAP, countries are aiming for vaccination coverage of ≥90% nationally and ≥80% in every district by 2020.[4]

In anticipation of the worthy objectives of World Immunization Week, in the coming month I'll be posting more materials related to the history of vaccines and the successful eradication of preventable diseases in Oregon and worldwide. 

[1] “Biografía de Istúriz, Jesús María,” Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC),

[2] Jesús María Istúriz, “Vaccinating Method and Means,” US Patent 2 131 284A, issued Sept. 27, 1938. Accessed via

[3] “Smallpox Fact Sheet: Vaccine Overview,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Emergency Preprardness and Response,

[4] “Fact Sheet No. 378: Immunization Coverage,” World Health Organization Media Centre,

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