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March 2001

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Charles Mérieux

Jacques-François Martin remembers a mentor committed to the health of the poor

CHARLES Mérieux passed away in Lyon on 19 January 2001. He had just turned 94.

Strongly influenced by Louis Pasteur's approach (his father had been assistant to Emile Roux and to Pasteur), Charles Mérieux gave his whole life to preventive medicine: it was he, together with Jonas Salk, who coined the term "vaccinology".

Charles Mérieux, who liked to say that there is no boundary between the two branches of medicine, industrialised modern virology in veterinary medicine. By culturing cells in-vitro, he enabled the large-scale production of a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. He then applied this approach to the development of human vaccines against polio and measles.

In the 1970s he developed the first vaccine against meningococcal meningitis, which found an unexpected application in Brazil when the entire population was immunized in 1975. That campaign was a precursor to the National Immunization Days which were introduced, again by Brazil, for polio, paving the way for eradication of the disease.

A man of boundless energy, in 1967 Charles Mérieux founded the Marcel Mérieux Foundation, whose Pensières Centre in Annecy has received thousands of scientists. In 1955 he co-founded The International Association for Biological Standardization, and in 1974 organized the first seminar on immunization in Africa before creating Bioforce, a school to train logisticians in a multitude of tasks to be performed in the context of developing countries, and more recently, in 2000, a P4 laboratory for the express purpose of studying emerging African illnesses.

Charles Mérieux was the recipient of the highest French decoration, the Grand' Croix de la Légion d'Honneur, and was awarded honorary doctorates by a dozen international universities. He was the embodiment of industrial efficiency in the service of ethics and the world's poor.

His family life was not unmarked by hardship, but he never failed to demonstrate the strength that sprang from hope. Resolutely turned towards the future, he taught us to believe in the impossible because in his case, the impossible was no match for his determination.

  Charles Mérieux, vaccinologist, born January 9, 1907, died January 19, 2001

Jacques- François Martin is President of the Vaccine Fund.

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