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Rockefeller Foundation Report Concerning the Yellow Fever Vaccine


The creation of the yellow fever vaccine turned out to be quite controversial. Many of these controversies are revealed in documents such as this summary of correspondence between Georges Stefanopoulo, a Pastorian microbiologist, and his colleagues at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York. In section 3 of the report, it is noted that Stefanopoulo had concerns with Jean Laigret’s vaccine, which he believed to have caused cases of paralysis, contrary to official reports of trials in Africa, reporting unqualified success. The source also shows the changing landscape of international medical science. The Pasteur Institute, once a central hub of microbiological research, was having increasing difficulties retaining its scientists, while the Rockefeller Foundation was increasingly providing grants to European researchers, such as Stefanopoulo. The collaborative-competitive dynamic between the two institutions characterized much of their interactions in the 1920s and 1930s, including the development of the yellow fever vaccine, which, at least to some Pastorians, became a race to prove the French still held the upper hand in microbiological research.

This source is part of the teaching module on transnational effort to control yellow fever


From Dr. Strode's Diary

Thursday, September 20, 1934

Dr. Stefanopoulo - Cam in to discuss a number of problems as follows:

(1) His situation at the Pasteur Institute seems to be quite unsatisfactory, inasmuch as he has received no formal appointment as Chef de Laboratoire nor any salary increase as has been arranged for others in the same category. S. Has brought the matter to the attention of the Director and unless he secures both appointment and salary increase he intends to resign. 

(2) Presented to GKS a film which he would like to have delivered to WAS. It is a picture of a macaucus rhesus injected with toxic doses of arsenic (pentavalent). The study was incidental to y.f. work. S. has been trying our various leads in chemotherapy. Before using any of the drugs he had to establish their toxicity level. The picture is one of a monkey which had received the above mentioned toxic dose of arsenicc and shows typical type of paralysis, altered reflexes, blindness, etc. S. Incidentally has had no success in chemotherapy. 

(3) S. Also calls attention to recent articles in the press of Laigret's work in Africa where he has been using on a rather extensive scale his vaccine for immunization against yellow fever. There seems to be a good deal of contradiction in reports on this work and that previously published by Laigret. From the information received from private sources, S. said that as a result of Laigret's vaccinations several grave cases of paralysis resulted. There may also have been deaths. S. is anxious to bring the question of vaccination before the Office International d'Hygiene Publique at its October meeting and would do so if he could become the Greek representative. 

(4) S. said he had heard from WAS who recommended that he do some experimental work with the hedgehog in confirmation of Findlay's work. S. said he had already done this at Findlay's request and had completely confirmed F's observations. 

(5) The question of a grant for yellow fever at the Pasteur Institute will of course be conditioned by what happens to S. during the next month or two. He promised to keep GKS advised


Photograph via the Rockefeller Archive Center 

How to Cite This Source

"Rockefeller Foundation Report Concerning the Yellow Fever Vaccine," in World History Commons, [accessed May 28, 2024]