How historic vaccine triumph made Pasteur Institute a tool of French 'soft power'


When in 1885 French scientist Louis Pasteur successfully treated a nine-year-old boy called Joseph Meister who had been bitten by a rabid dog it marked a turning point in the development of vaccines. But the medical breakthrough was also the launchpad for a global expansion of institutes bearing their founder's name which became a spearhead for French influence around the world. As part of a summer series on the history of vaccines, Nicolas Chevassus-au-Louis looks at the pioneering work of France's Louis Pasteur and his nationalistic rivalry with Germany's Robert Koch.

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In the summer of 1885, and using a preparation of his own invention, French scientist Louis Pasteur began treating several children bitten by dogs that were suspected of having rabies. At that time rabies was a rare disease which provoked fear both because of its awful symptoms and the near-certainty that it would lead to death.