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Bifurcated Vaccination Needle

Rubin Microbiologist Benjamin A. Rubin was born in New York City in 1917 in an era when smallpox was a dreaded, uncontrolled disease. At that time, the affliction was killing more than two million people per year. Little did young Rubin know that years later he would be responsible for an invention that would contribute to the eventual eradication of smallpox: the bifurcated vaccination needle.

Rubin received his B.S. in biology-chemistry from the College of the City of New York, his M.S. in biology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and in 1947, his Ph.D. in microbiology from Yale University. After graduation, he worked for a number of laboratories and colleges before landing a job at Wyeth Laboratories where he began experimenting with alternatives to the conventional syringe needle.

In 1965, Rubin was working on a needle design which involved grinding down the eyelet of a sewing machine needle, thus pushing the eyelet into a fork shape. At that time, smallpox was able to be controlled with vaccination, but the vaccine was very hard to find, and in short supply, especially in undeveloped areas of the world. The refinements Rubin made to his ground-sewing-needle design yielded the now-familiar bifurcated (fork-shaped) needle. He discovered that the small space between the tines could hold enough vaccine to inoculate a person with a just a few jabs. This would allow more people to be vaccinated with less serum. Rubin's needle sped vaccinations worldwide. Furthermore, it was an easy design for those living in less developed areas to replicate.

Rubin received patent no. 3,194,237 for his "Pronged Vaccinating and Testing Needle," but he also made history. In 1980 the World Health Assembly declared that smallpox had been defeated, marking the first time ever that man had eradicated a deadly disease. Today, even with modern medicine there is no cure for smallpox. If a person becomes infected, nothing can be done to stop the disease from running its full course, and there is little that doctors can do to alleviate the painful symptoms. A minimum of one third, or 33% of all people exposed to smallpox, die from the disease. Children all over the world are routinely vaccinated against the disease when they are very young, thanks in part to Rubin's invention.

Today, Rubin is a research professor of microbiology and public health at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. He also holds patents in radiation devices, vaccines, steroid chemistry, and microbiology.

[March 2001]


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