Photo of Maurice R. Hilleman

Maurice R. Hilleman

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his brilliant discoveries in basic research and ingenious inventiveness in creating vaccines that are the foundation for control of infectious diseases through immunologic intervention, preventing death and disability in millions of persons worldwide.

It is easy to take longevity for granted. We attribute it to hospital care, food safety, exercise and modern infrastructure. However, it can be argued that longer life spans are in large part due to vaccines. For thousands of years, no one was guaranteed to survive a pandemic or live past childhood due to invisible threats.

Maurice R. Hilleman may not be a household name, but he still influences the lives of nearly 95% of American children every year. He is recognized as saving more lives in the 20th century than any other scientist.

Hilleman created more than 40 vaccines including the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) group, meningitis, chickenpox, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and pneumonia just to name a few. The mumps vaccines in particular was a very personal endeavor for Hilleman. When his daughter got the mumps, he swabbed her throat and used cultures from the sample to begin developing a vaccine. The project was a four-year effort and when a clinical trial was finally available, Hilleman’s other daughter joined.

Modern life would not be possible without Hilleman. It cannot be understated how many millions of lives he has saved and protected from illness.

By Melissa Ayala