Waldemar Haffkine

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Waldemar Mordechai Haffkine
Waldemar Haffkine 2.jpg
Waldemar Haffkine
Born15 March 1860 (1860-03-15)
Died26 October 1930 (1930-10-27) (aged 70)
Alma mater Imperial Novorossiya University
Known forvaccines against cholera and bubonic plague
Scientific career
Fields bacteriology, protozoology
Institutions Imperial Novorossiya University, University of Geneva, Pasteur Institute
Author abbrev. (botany) Khawkine

Sir Waldemar Mordechai Wolff Haffkine CIE (Russian : Мордехай-Вольф Хавкин; 15 March 1860 – 26 October 1930) was a bacteriologist from the Russian Empire whose career was blighted in Russia because he refused to convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodox Christianity. [1] He emigrated and worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he developed an anti-cholera vaccine that he tried out successfully in India. He is recognized as the first microbiologist who developed and used vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. He tested the vaccines on himself. Lord Joseph Lister named him "a saviour of humanity".

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Judaism The ethnic religion of the Jewish people

Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish people. It is an ancient, monotheistic, Abrahamic religion with the Torah as its foundational text. It encompasses the religion, philosophy, and culture of the Jewish people. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Children of Israel. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible, and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. With between 14.5 and 17.4 million adherents worldwide, Judaism is the tenth largest religion in the world.

Russian Orthodox Church autocephalous Orthodox Christian church, headquartered in Moscow, Russia

The Russian Orthodox Church, alternatively legally known as the Moscow Patriarchate, is one of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. The Primate of the ROC is the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus'. The ROC, as well as the primate thereof, officially ranks fifth in the Orthodox order of precedence, immediately below the four ancient patriarchates of the Greek Orthodox Church, those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Since 15 October 2018, the ROC is not in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, having unilaterally severed ties in reaction to the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was finalised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 5 January 2019.


He was knighted in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year Honours in 1897. The Jewish Chronicle of that time noted "a Ukraine Jew, trained in the schools of European science, saves the lives of Hindus and Mohammedans and is decorated by the descendant of William the Conqueror and Alfred the Great." [2]

William I, usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. A descendant of Rollo, he was Duke of Normandy from 1035 onward. After a long struggle to establish his power, by 1060 his hold on Normandy was secure, and he launched the Norman conquest of England six years later. The rest of his life was marked by struggles to consolidate his hold over England and his continental lands and by difficulties with his eldest son.

Alfred the Great 9th-century King of Wessex

Alfred the Great was King of Wessex from 871 to c. 886 and King of the Anglo-Saxons from c. 886 to 899. He was the youngest son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex. His father died when he was young and three of Alfred's brothers, Æthelbald, Æthelberht, and Æthelred, reigned in turn.

Early years

Born Vladimir Aaronovich Khavkin (Russian : Владимир (Маркус-Вольф) Аaронович Хавкин), the fourth of five children of Aaron and Rosalie (daughter of David-Aïsic Landsberg) in a family of a Jewish schoolmaster in Berdyansk, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), he received his education in Odessa, Berdyansk [3] and St. Petersburg. [4] [5]

Berdyansk Place in Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine

Berdyansk or Berdiansk is a port city in the Zaporizhia Oblast (province) of south-east Ukraine. It is on the northern coast of the Sea of Azov, which is the northern extension of the Black Sea. It serves as an administrative center of Berdyansk Raion, though it does not belong to the region. The city is named after the river Berda forming Berdyanska spit at the foot of which it is located. Berdyansk is a very attractive place, home to a safari zoo, water park, museums, health resorts with mud baths and climatic treatments, and numerous water sport activities.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

Ukraine Sovereign state in Eastern Europe

Ukraine, sometimes called the Ukraine, is a country in Eastern Europe. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religions in the country are Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.

Young Haffkine was also a member of the Jewish League for Self-Defense. Haffkine was injured while defending a Jewish home during a pogrom. As a result of this action he was arrested but later released due to the intervention of Ilya Mechnikov.

Pogrom The deliberate persecution of an ethnic or religious group either approved or conducted by the local authorities

A pogrom is a violent riot aimed at the massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews. The Russian term originally entered the English language in order to describe 19th and 20th century attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire. Similar attacks against Jews at other times and places also became retrospectively known as pogroms. The word is now also sometimes used to describe publicly sanctioned purgative attacks against non-Jewish ethnic or religious groups. The characteristics of a pogrom vary widely, depending on the specific incidents, at times leading to, or culminating in, massacres.

Haffkine continued his studies from 1879 to 1883 with biologist Ilya Mechnikov, but after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the government increasingly cracked down on people it considered suspicious, including intelligentsia. Haffkine was also employed by the zoological museum at Odessa from 1882 to 1888. In 1888, Haffkine was allowed to emigrate to Switzerland and began his work at the University of Geneva. In 1889 he joined Mechnikov and Louis Pasteur in Paris at the newly established Pasteur Institute where he took up the only available post of librarian. [5] [1]

Tsar title given to a male monarch in Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia

Tsar, also spelled czar, or tzar, is a title used to designate East and South Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers of Eastern Europe, originally Bulgarian monarchs from 10th century onwards. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism. The term is derived from the Latin word Caesar, which was intended to mean "Emperor" in the European medieval sense of the term—a ruler with the same rank as a Roman emperor, holding it by the approval of another emperor or a supreme ecclesiastical official —but was usually considered by western Europeans to be equivalent to king, or to be somewhat in between a royal and imperial rank.

Alexander II of Russia Emperor of Russia

Alexander II was the Emperor of Russia from 2 March 1855 until his assassination on 13 March 1881. He was also the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland.

The intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labours that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society. As a status class, the intelligentsia includes artists, teachers and academics, writers, journalists, and the literary hommes de lettres.

Protozoological studies

Haffkine began his scientific career as a protozoologist and protistologist, under the tutelage of Ilya Mechnikov at Imperial Novorossiya University in Odessa and later at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. [6] His early research was on protists such as Astasia , Euglena , and Paramecium , as well as the earliest studies on Holospora , a bacterial parasite of Paramecium. [6] In the early 1890s, Haffkine shifted his attention to studies in practical bacteriology. [6]

<i>Euglena</i> genus of unicellular flagellate protists

Euglena is a genus of single cell flagellate eukaryotics. It is the best known and most widely studied member of the class Euglenoidea, a diverse group containing some 54 genera and at least 800 species. Species of Euglena are found in freshwater and salt water. They are often abundant in quiet inland waters where they may bloom in numbers sufficient to color the surface of ponds and ditches green (E. viridis) or red (E. sanguinea).

<i>Paramecium</i> genus of unicellular ciliates, commonly studied as a representative of the ciliate group

Paramecium is a genus of unicellular ciliates, commonly studied as a representative of the ciliate group. Paramecia are widespread in freshwater, brackish, and marine environments and are often very abundant in stagnant basins and ponds. Because some species are readily cultivated and easily induced to conjugate and divide, it has been widely used in classrooms and laboratories to study biological processes. Its usefulness as a model organism has caused one ciliate researcher to characterize it as the "white rat" of the phylum Ciliophora.

Bacteriology study of bacteria

Bacteriology is the branch and specialty of biology that studies the morphology, ecology, genetics and biochemistry of bacteria as well as many other aspects related to them. This subdivision of microbiology involves the identification, classification, and characterization of bacterial species. Because of the similarity of thinking and working with microorganisms other than bacteria, such as protozoa, fungi, and viruses, there has been a tendency for the field of bacteriology to extend as microbiology. The terms were formerly often used interchangeably. However, bacteriology can be classified as a distinct science.

The euglenid genus Khawkinea is named in honor of Haffkine's early studies of euglenids, first published in French journals with the author name translated from cyrillic as "Mardochée-Woldemar Khawkine".

Anti-cholera vaccine

At the time, one of the five great cholera pandemics of the 19th century ravaged Asia and Europe. Even though Robert Koch discovered Vibrio cholerae in 1883, the medical science at that time did not consider it a sole cause of the disease. This view was supported by experiments by several biologists, notably Jaume Ferran i Clua in Spain.[ citation needed ]

Haffkine focused his research on developing cholera vaccine and produced an attenuated form of the bacterium. Risking his own life, on 18 July 1892, Haffkine performed the first human test on himself and reported his findings on 30 July to the Biological Society. Even though his discovery caused an enthusiastic stir in the press, it was not widely accepted by his senior colleagues, including both Mechnikov and Pasteur, nor by European official medical establishment in France, Germany and Russia. [ citation needed ]

Haffkine considered India, where hundreds of thousands died from ongoing epidemics, as the best place to test his vaccine. [1] Through the influence of Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, who was in Paris as the British Ambassador, he was allowed to demonstrate his ideas in England. He proceeded to India in 1893 and established a laboratory at Byculla in 1896 which moved to Parel and was later called the Haffkine institute. Haffkine worked on the plague and by 1902–3 half a million were inoculated but on 30 October 1902, 19 people died from tetanus of 107 inoculated at Mulkowal. This "Mulkowal disaster" led to an enquiry. [7] He was briefly suspended but reappointed director of the Biological Laboratory in Calcutta. [ citation needed ] He retired in 1915 and suffering from malaria, had to return to France.

Anti-plague vaccine

"Unlike tetanus or diphtheria, which were quickly neutralized by effective vaccines by the 1920s, the immunological aspects of bubonic plague proved to be much more daunting." [8] In October 1896, an epidemic of bubonic plague struck Mumbai and the government asked Haffkine to help. He embarked upon the development of a vaccine in a makeshift laboratory in a corridor of Grant Medical College. In three months of persistent work (one of his assistants experienced a nervous breakdown, two others quit), a form for human trials was ready and on 10 January 1897 [9] Haffkine tested it on himself. "Haffkine's vaccine used a small amount of the bacteria to produce an immune reaction." [10] After these results were announced to the authorities, volunteers at the Byculla jail were inoculated and survived the epidemics, while seven inmates of the control group died. "Like others of these early vaccines, the Haffkine formulation had nasty side effects, and did not provide complete protection, though it was said to have reduced risk by up to 50 percent." [8] [10]

Despite Haffkine's successes, some officials still primarily insisted on methods based on sanitarianism: washing homes by fire hose with lime, herding affected and suspected persons into camps and hospitals, and restricting travel.[ citation needed ]

Even though the official Russia was still unsympathetic to his research, [ citation needed ] Haffkine's Russian colleagues, doctors V. K. Vysokovich and D. K. Zabolotny, visited him in Bombay. During the 1898 cholera outbreak in the Russian Empire, the vaccine called "лимфа Хавкина" ("limfa Havkina", Havkin's lymph ) saved thousands of lives across the empire.

By the turn of the 20th century, the number of inoculees in India alone reached four million and doctor Haffkine was appointed the Director of the Plague Laboratory in Mumbai (now called Haffkine Institute). [1]

Haffkine was the first to prepare a vaccine for human prophylaxis by killing virulent culture by heat at 60 °C. [11] The major limit of his vaccine was the lack of activity against pulmonary forms of plague. [12]

Connection with Zionism

In 1898, Haffkine approached Aga Khan III with an offer for Sultan Abdul Hamid II to resettle Jews in Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire: the effort "could be progressively undertaken in the Holy Land", "the land would be obtained by purchase from the Sultan's subjects", "the capital was to be provided by wealthier members of the Jewish community", but the plan was rejected.[ citation needed ]

Little Dreyfus affair

In 1902, nineteen Indian villagers (inoculated from a single bottle of vaccine) died of tetanus. An inquiry commission indicted Haffkine, and he was relieved of his position and returned to England. The report was unofficially known as the "Little Dreyfus affair", as a reminder of Haffkine's Jewish background and religion.

The Lister Institute reinvestigated the claim and overruled the verdict: it was discovered that an assistant used a dirty bottle cap without sterilizing it.

In July 1907, a letter published in The Times called the case against Haffkine "distinctly disproven". It was signed by Ronald Ross (Nobel laureate, malaria researcher), R.F.C. Leith (the founder of Birmingham University Institute of Pathology), [13] William R. Smith (President of the Council of the Royal Institute of Public Health), and Simon Flexner (Director of Laboratories at New York City Rockefeller Institute), among other medical dignitaries. This led to Haffkine's acquittal.

Published materials from the India Home Department related to the vaccination incident (along with Haffkine's personal diaries on microfilm) are held at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. [14]

Late years

Haffkine on a 1964 stamp of India Waldemar Haffkine 1964 stamp of India.jpg
Haffkine on a 1964 stamp of India

Since Haffkine's post in Mumbai was already occupied, he moved to Calcutta and worked there until his retirement in 1914. [15] Professor Haffkine returned to France and later moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he spent the last years of his life. During his brief visit to the Soviet Union in 1927, he found drastic changes in the country of his birth.

Haffkine received numerous honors and awards. In 1925, the Plague Laboratory in Mumbai, Maharashtra was renamed the Haffkine Institute. In commemoration of the centennial of his birth, Haffkine Park was planted in Israel in the 1960s.

Orthodox Judaism

In a biography of him, Nobelist Selman Abraham Waksman explains that, in this last phase of his life, Haffkine had become a deeply religious man. Haffkine returned to Orthodox Jewish practice and wrote A Plea for Orthodoxy (1916). In this article, he advocated traditional religious observance and decried the lack of such observance among "enlightened" Jews, and stressed the importance of community life, stating:

A brotherhood built up of racial ties, long tradition, common suffering, faith and hope, is a union ready-made, differing from artificial unions in that the bonds existing between the members contain an added promise of duration and utility. Such a union takes many centuries to form and is a power for good, the neglect or disuse of which is as much an injury to humanity as the removal of an important limb is to the individual... no law of nature operates with more fatality and precision than the law according to which those communities survive in the strife for existence that conform the nearest to the Jewish teachings on the relation of man to his Creator; on the ordering of time for work and rest; on the formation of families and the duties of husband and wife, parents and children ; on the paramount obligations of truthfulness and justice between neighbor and neighbor and to the stranger within the gates.

Haffkine (1916) [16]

In 1929, he established the Haffkine Foundation to foster Jewish education in Eastern Europe. Haffkine was also respectful of other religions, and "he considered it of the utmost importance to promote the study of the Bible." [17]


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