September 2, 2021 is the 138th anniversary of the birth of Rudolf Weigl – a Pole who revolutionized the world of science. He invented the world’s first effective typhus vaccine.
Exactly 138 years ago, Rudolf Weigl was born in Přerov in the Czech Republic. He was a Polish biologist, he made history by inventing the world’s first effective vaccine against typhus.
He developed the vaccine shortly after graduation
Weigl graduated from the University of Lviv, studied natural sciences. In 1913 he defended his doctorate and habilitation. He started working on the specificity of typhus and lice spreading it during the First World War. He was drafted into the army as a parasitologist. Thanks to his research, he managed to develop the first effective vaccine against typhus.
In the interwar period, he continued his research. In the research laboratory he created in Lviv, together with his associates, he produced small amounts of the drug. Weigl also carried out a vaccination against typhus during Catholic missions in China.
Research during World War II and the Nobel Prize
In 1939 he left for Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia), where he worked to control the typhus epidemic. After the outbreak of World War II, he returned to the country because he expected that there might be an increase in infections due to the hostilities.
During the occupation, he worked for the German army at the Institute for Research on Spotted Typhus and Viruses. Despite his Austrian origin, he successfully refused to enter the German nationality list. During the war – in 1942 – he was nominated for the Nobel Prize, but his candidacy was not supported by the Germans. It was retaliation for refusing to sign the list.
His vaccine was distributed among civilians, ghetto inhabitants and partisans. It is estimated that it could directly save up to several thousand people.
After the war, he moved to Krakow, where he continued his research and production of vaccines. He died on August 11, 1957 in Zakopane.
Both during his life and after his death, he was awarded several orders and decorations, including the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations of the Yad Vashem Institute of Israel.
On the occasion of his 138th birthday, he was commemorated on the Google Doodle platform.
Main photo source: National Digital Archives