Dr. Jacob T John

T Jacob John became interested in vaccines as he observed that nearly half of children who developed kwashiorkor in the 1960s had measles or whooping cough during the preceding 3-4 weeks. As an ardent advocate and teacher of ‘the good news’ of vaccination since the 1960s he was disappointed that WHO EPI (being public health) excluded academic institutions from participation and that India EPI excluded measles vaccine from the schedule. From 1978 he pioneered campaigns of measles vaccination that became widely popular in Tamil Nadu. That experience led to the acceptance of measles vaccine in India EPI starting in 1985 and covering the whole country by 1990.

He observed children developing polio in spite of taking 3 doses of OPV in late 1960s and systematically investigated the problem and its solutions, including monovalent vaccines, multiple doses, pulse vaccination and IPV – many of these studies have become highly relevant both in polio eradication and in recognizing geographic variations in response to mucosal vaccinations by the oral route.

Although his formal training was in pediatrics (DCH, FRCPE) in India, UK and USA, he learned laboratory virology (PhD) and epidemiology and public health in India through various projects for the control of vaccine-preventable diseases and its systematic documentation through practical disease surveillance – a missing element in EPI. Almost his entire career was in CMC Vellore from which he retired as Emeritus Scientist in 2000. Earlier he worked in the departments of clinical virology and clinical microbiology as professor and head. In 1999 he was president of the India Academy of Pediatrics and in 1994 president of Indian Association of Medical Microbiologists.

One of his projects in virology was state-wide search for HIV infection in Tamil Nadu in 1985-86. India’s earliest documented HIV infections were detected in Chennai, Madurai and Vellore in Feb-March 1986. Soon thereafter he guided the activities of the Government of India Task Force on HIV prevention and led the National HIV Reference Laboratory from 1986 till 1995. He championed the screening of donor blood for recipient safety, first for hepatitis B infection (1972) and later for HIV infection (1988). Currently he chairs the India Expert Advisory Group (WHO/GoI) on Polio Eradication and co-chairs India Technical Advisory Group (GoI) on Immunisation, and serves on various other committees of WHO at headquarters (Vaccine Safety, Polio Eradication), SE Asia Region (Immunisation) and EM Region (Polio Eradication).

Since 1966 he has continued with annual average 10 publications including originals, editorials, commentaries and reviews. He is Fellow of Indian National Science Academy and several other Indian Academies of Science, Medicine and Pediatrics.