Dr. Harry M. Meyer Jr., co-developer of the German measles vaccine that helped save millions of children from birth defects including blindness and cerebral palsy, has died of lymphoma. He was 72.
Meyer, who had lived in Friday Harbor, Wash., since his retirement in 1993, died Aug. 19 at his stepson’s home in Kenmore.
A consultant to three U.S. presidents regarding public-health matters, Meyer retired as assistant surgeon general of the United States in 1986. He also held the rank of rear admiral in the Public Health Service.
Meyer and Dr. Paul Parkman worked five years to develop a vaccine for German measles, or rubella. Women who contract the viral disease during the first three months of pregnancy often give birth to babies with birth defects.
About 12.5 million cases left 20,000 children with birth defects after a two-year outbreak beginning in 1964, but there has been no major epidemic since the vaccine was introduced in 1966.
The vaccine was later refined into the vaccine known as M.M.R., for mumps, measles and rubella.
Meyer was recognized worldwide for his work involving infectious diseases and vaccines. He published more than 100 scientific papers and contributed to textbooks.
Meyer also tested an experimental vaccine against red measles, or rubeola, in West Africa. He and Nobel Prize winner Dr. John F. Enders helped immunize more than 1 million children in three years, starting in 1961.
A native of Palestine, Texas, Meyer attended Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and the University of Arkansas School of Medicine.
He worked as a researcher in the Army Medical Corps and helped identify the Asian flu virus. He also worked on the first clinical trial of a smallpox vaccine administered with the jet injector, a device that later helped eradicate the disease.
In 1959, he joined the National Institutes of Health as head of a virus research section in the biologics division. He was named chief of the laboratory of viral immunology in 1964.
After leaving government service, he became president of the Medical Research Division of the American Cyanamid Co. in Pearl River, N.Y., directing development of pharmaceuticals.