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, 36 (4), 696-721

The 'Experimental Stable' of the BCG Vaccine: Safety, Efficacy, Proof, and Standards, 1921-1933


The 'Experimental Stable' of the BCG Vaccine: Safety, Efficacy, Proof, and Standards, 1921-1933

Christian Bonah. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci.


The anti-tuberculosis BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine was conceived and developed between 1905 and 1921 at Pasteur Institutes in France. Between 1921 and A. Calmette's death in 1933, the vaccine went through a first period of national and international production and distribution for its use in humans. In France these activities were exclusively carried out by Calmette and his collaborators at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Initially improvised production in a small room in the cellar gave way in 1931 to the construction of the spacious and magnificent 'New laboratories for research on tuberculosis and the preparation of the BCG' within the premises of the Pasteur Institute. Presentation and image-building of the vaccine in France insisted on the fact that the BCG was not a commercial specialty but distributed free of charge. The technical monopoly of its production nevertheless lay with the Paris Pasteur Institute and standardization of scientific proof of safety, efficacy and stability was dominated by that Institute in France. In contrast, the international production and distribution of the vaccine was entrusted and transferred, free of charge, to trustworthy laboratories outside France. Multiplication of producers and users led to an increased need for standardization. For this process the analysis distinguishes between the standardization of scientific proof concerning safety, efficacy and stability of the vaccine and standardization of its medical uses. Whereas standardization was rather successful in the inter-war period in France, the international efforts remained rather unsuccessful. Only after world war II under Scandinavian leadership and in the context of mass vaccination programs supported by the WHO and UNICEF was the international standardization effectively implemented and succeeded at least to some extend.

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