February 8, 2017 | HILLEMAN: A Perilous Quest to Save the World’s Children | Blue Bell, PA
When I walked on stage for today’s screening of HILLEMAN at Mongomery County Community College in Blue Bell, PA, I immediately spotted Dr. Robert Weibel in the second row. I hadn’t seen him in person for over a decade, when I interviewed him as a precursor to our current film. And yet I’ve been looking at him a lot over the past couple of years as he played a consistent, if somewhat unpopular role during the editing of the film.
You see, Dr. Weibel worked for many years with Maurice Hilleman and the great Joseph Stokes, M.D. at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he coordinated the clinical trials that put Hilleman’s many vaccines to the test. Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. Weibel administered countless injections to a steady stream of brave kids combating a multitude of childhood diseases. So it’s no wonder that every time he is seen in our movie he’s jabbing someone with a needle; whether it’s a less than enthusiastic youngster, Dr. Hilleman himself, or even Hilleman’s daughter, Kirsten, as she received the mumps vaccine named after her older sister, Jeryl Lynn, from whom the vaccine strain was originally isolated.
One of my favorite anecdotes from the talk-back came from a discussion about the role of regulation in Hilleman’s career. In the film, we tell the almost unbelievable story of how Hilleman, in the days before stringent biological oversight, was able to get a military vaccine project up and running in just 30 days to protect troops serving overseas in WWII. Hilleman muses that in today’s regulatory climate such an effort would take upwards of 30 years! Likewise, Dr. Weibel shared a similar anecdote, noting that the paperwork required of a patient participating in a vaccine trial today amounts to what many would consider a short novel. But in those early days, when they were testing vaccines in the Philadelphia suburbs, the consent a parent was required to give amounted to a single 3×5 card with a couple simply written sentences. We’ve come a long way!
I think most would agree that times have changed for the better, even if our patience and writer’s cramp may suggest otherwise. To think that without the countless, courageous parents, the Dr. Weibel’s of the world, and the great vaccine researchers like Hilleman himself, we might still be faced with that multitude of childhood diseases…
Post provided by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker, Donald Mitchell