April 4, 2011
My dear friend and mentor, Dr. H. R. Shepherd, passed away on March 28, 2011. Shep was a tireless innovator and global health advocate whose work has impacted millions of lives around the world. As the founding chairman for the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Shep’s vision and leadership led to significant advances in vaccines and built public awareness of the need to rid the world of a range of debilitating diseases.
When I first heard the news of Shep’s passing, for some reason I thought of Truman Capote’s aphorism that “life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.” Because for Shep that really wasn’t the case at all. While I did not have the good fortune to know him during Acts 1 and 2 of his life, and only got to know him shortly after he founded Sabin in 1993, I believe he had an extraordinary third act!
Shep had two great legacies from his life: first was his extraordinary family and marriage to his wife of 68 years, Carol Ruth. His second legacy came from helping to found and lead the Sabin Vaccine Institute.
Like many organizations, Sabin had modest beginnings. It began because of Shep’s industrial success in helping to develop and expand the use of aerosols and the metered dose inhaler, and from his collaboration with Dr. Albert Sabin, the discoverer of the oral polio vaccine, who towards the end of his life became interested in using that technology to develop and test an aerosolized measles vaccine. While the development of aerosolized vaccines remains elusive, shortly after Dr. Sabin’s death in 1993, Shep made the case to Heloisa Sabin, Dr. Sabin’s widow, to begin a U.S.-based institute devoted to vaccines.
Over the next 15 years as Sabin’s chairman, Shep followed the advice of Casey Stengel who once said, “The trick is growing up without growing old.” The Institute has since grown into a major global health non-profit organization dedicated to producing new vaccines for the world’s poor and to raising awareness and action for better access to existing NTD treatments. With nearly 100 scientists and staff operating on five continents, our vaccine development team already has made breakthroughs in the production of the first vaccines to treat Hookworm infection and schistosomiasis.
Sabin also is on the forefront of advocating for more effective use of existing treatments through our development of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an initiative to raise awareness and action for infections such as lymphatic filariasis and river blindness, which today has resulted in more than 100 million people receiving urgently needed medicines for these conditions each year.
And finally, Sabin is leading an innovative Sustainable Immunization Financing program that encourages ministers of health and finance in low income countries in Africa and elsewhere to develop more efficient protocols for purchasing or procuring their own vaccines. As a result, tens of millions of children who otherwise would not have had access to vaccines receive immunizations for pneumococcal pneumonia and rotavirus.
Together these and other achievements form a lasting legacy for Shep’s work, as well as a record of impact for Sabin’s donors, who have come to recognize NTD treatment and vaccine development as one of the most effective investments in global health.
I think it is easy for people to become overwhelmed and jaded by the scale of today’s health challenges, particularly for those tasked with developing solutions. Shep’s life is a testament to taking the long view on overcoming daunting health challenges and to staying focused on the small victories that lead to major success. His inspiration anchors the work of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and encourages us to continue pushing boundaries.