Richard Pfeiffer’s typhoid vaccine and Almroth Wright’s claim to priority


John D WilliamsonKeith G GouldKevin Brown


Following the 1892 cholera pandemic, Richard Pfeiffer, Director of the science section of Robert Koch’s Institute for Hygiene in Berlin, began laboratory-based studies on the pathogenesis of the disease using an animal model. These investigations resulted in his discovery of bacterial endotoxin; recognition of the bacteriolytic properties of both animal and human immune sera; and identification of the specific nature of protective immune responses. His research led naturally from cholera to typhoid fever and in November 1896 Pfeiffer published the results of experimental studies on a typhoid vaccine. In September 1896 Almroth Wright, a professor of pathology in the British Army Medical School, published a short note entitled “Typhoid Vaccination”. It was appended to a review on the use of styptics to control defective blood coagulation: his previous research studies had a physiological basis that stemmed from earlier studies on tissue fibrinogen. In December 1895, Wright had been commissioned by the Army Medical Department to develop a typhoid vaccine and he later admitted that such work began only after he had spoken with Pfeiffer. In January 1897 Wright published a further paper in which he claimed precedence over Pfeiffer in the introduction of anti-typhoid vaccination. This self-entitlement has subsequently been accepted, primarily because the British Army approved typhoid vaccination in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. That time has been used as their starting point by many of Wright’s biographers, but without any attempt to confirm Wright’s claim to priority. This paper concludes Richard Pfeiffer, not Almroth Wright, provided the first account of human typhoid vaccination. It also provides early examples of laboratory-based responses to pandemic and epidemic infectious diseases.

Click here to read the article, published in Vaccine.