He saved lives

A great American died recently, one whom most of us have never heard of but whose work may have saved our lives or the lives of those near to us.

Dr. John B. Robbins developed a vaccine against Hib meningitis that some estimate has saved 7 million lives since it was licensed in 1989, according to an obituary in the New York Times.

Now the disease, which brought about brain damage, deafness and death to babies born with it, is all but wiped out, only being found in one in every million children in the United States.

Robbins and a longtime collaborator, Dr. Rachel Schneerson, developed a technique called conjugation that made vaccines more visible to infants’ immune systems, thus better helping their bodies generate the protective antibodies needed to fight disease. That made vaccines more effective against a host of diseases, including typhoid fever, whooping cough, E. coli bacteria and anthrax, according to the obituary.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Robbins, who died Nov. 27 at 86 from prostate cancer at his home in New York, did not profit personally from his discoveries. “We had a notion — a wrong notion, maybe — that public money went into making it, so it should be free to the public,” Schneerson told the Times.

That notion was not wrong; medicine should be about helping humanity, not making money. Robbins’ impact will continue with every baby born healthy because of his discovery.

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1. He has been married for 21 years to his high school sweetheart. 2. He and his wife have four children.