The following is an excerpt from "The 25 Most Influential Alumni", featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Profile written by Maryellen Duckett.
He may not wear a cape, but Dr. Samuel Katz is a superhero to the millions of kids he has saved. His superpower: researching, developing, and championing vaccines. Katz helped pioneer and promote widespread use of the measles vaccine, which wiped out the disease in the United States and transformed global children’s health. While his measles work is legendary, it is only an early chapter in a 60-plus-year-and-counting medical career devoted to bringing the biggest infectious disease breakthroughs to the planet’s smallest patients—children.
“The impact Sam Katz has had on medicine and humanity is staggering,” says Dr. William Steinbach, chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at Duke University, where Katz is the chairman emeritus of pediatrics. “Aside from the countless people he directly influenced as a trusted mentor, invaluable colleague, physician, and friend, his measles vaccine has saved an estimated 118 million lives worldwide, about one-third of the current U.S. population.”
Katz didn’t set out to be a disease fighter. Music was his passion growing up. When World War II depleted the pool of local percussionists, Katz landed dance hall drumming gigs. A penchant for marching to his own beat led him to leave Dartmouth to enlist in the Navy in 1944. Upon being posted to a hospital training school, he discovered his true calling—medicine.
After the war Katz earned his undergraduate degree in 1948, graduated from the then two-year Dartmouth Medical School program, completed his pediatric residency, and worked at Boston Children’s Hospital with Nobel laureate John Enders for 12 years developing the measles vaccine.
Before it was licensed for human use in 1963 (after it was proven safe and effective in monkeys), Katz demonstrated his confidence in his work by inoculating himself and his four children. That same year Katz traveled to Nigeria to help implement its vaccination program, a mission that transformed him from a self-described “parochial, naive young man” into a passionate global health advocate.
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