Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The immortal Henrietta Lacks and the Covid vaccine

Credit: Keith Henry Brown. Henrietta Lacks, the "Mother of Modern Medicine," made a vital contribution to the Covid-19 vaccines, 70 years after her death.

At this time of year when we honor the memory of George Floyd and repairing racial injustice, we must not forget the story of Henrietta Lacks. She is called the "Mother of Modern Medicine" for good reason. Her cells, used in research around the world, on many projects, played a significant role in the development of the Covid-19 vaccine, as they did for the development of the polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk.

Remarkably, 70 years after her death from cervical cancer, Henrietta Lacks' cells live on, allowing for lower research cost and for researchers scientists to avoid testing on human subjects.

Correcting a longstanding injustice

Henrietta Lacks' contributions in the form of her immortal cells have finally been recognized by the biomedical community. Johns Hopkins University, where she was treated for cervical cancer, the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and other individuals have made reparations to the family in terms of cash payments from the results of experiments on her cells. 

A Henrietta Lacks Foundation, seats on the board that decides how her cells will be used, and symposiums and scholarships in her name all honor Henrietta Lacks and have begun to correct the ethically wrong use of her cells, which was begun without her consent. 

Read more about this important, remarkable story. And it is hoped that some will get the vaccine which, incredibly, she helped make possible decades after her death.

Learn more about Henrietta Lacks, the vaccine, Covid-19 and public health in this new book:

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