, twelve scientists to date (2005). Glass described him as: “dedication to science, professional integrity, leadership, tenacity, vision, humor, warm personal qualities, compassion and perhaps most of all, love and passion to improve the health of the world”s children through a vaccine rotavirus”. Glass finished his presentation with a poem about baseball titled “Albert at bat“, an adaptation from Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1888) by Roger Glass.
In the developing of the RotaShield ® vaccine, since the beginning, I had the privilege of knowing and working with him during 15 years. This story was written in my book named: “Rotavirus Vaccine: A global agenda for the development and universal application“.
Albert Kapikian, named Al in his intimate circle, was a person with surprising human qualities, brilliant as scientist but at the same time humble, he embarrassed at the praise and recognition. He had the gift of human empathy to relate to the other, was this a technician, an investigator or a mother of a child who participate in any of the vaccine field studies. He was impeccably honest in the everyday work and very exhaustive with the laboratory data or clinical studies, a quality that I learned from him. He was indefatigable in the performance of their work; I remember that we stayed in the lab working late at night in several occasions. He was generous to recognize the other and with him friendship. He loved baseball and shared with me the achievements of the Venezuelan players in the big leagues. In the foreword to the book edited by him, “Viral Infections of the Gastrointestinal Tract“, he compared the scientific career with baseball where he noted how difficult is to reach the “Hall of Fame” in both professions. Kapikian occupied a place in the “Hall of Fame” in medical science.
His greatest concern was always the children. When RotaShield ® vaccine was withdrawn from the market because of its association with intussusception, Kapikian said: “The great tragedy is that children are dying as we speak [ … ] and we will continue to talk for another 5 years before a new vaccine has the opportunity of being available“. And he was right, 6 years later, in 2006, two rotavirus vaccines were licensed and commercialized for its use in children of 2 months of age, with an evident impact, nowadays.
This tragedy did not dissuade him and Kapikian continued working to create another vaccine that has been licensed by companies in Brazil, China and India to be produced at very low cost and used where most needed. This is a testimony of his commitment and love for children”s health.
He described his scientific career as a rainbow in his lecture, entitled “A privileged Odyssey” when he received the Sabin award. He began his remarks, recalling the words of his mentor, Dr. Bell, after his arrival at NIH: “in this job we’re paid to do a hobby“.
I feel a great emotion to look back over this conference which brings caring memories shared with the extraordinary Dr. Kapikian. I celebrate with an immense privilege to have known him as a mentor and had worked with him, one of the people who most influenced and inspired my scientific career.
Knowing his death, NIH colleagues reviewed some of his virtues as a man and as a scientist, “Al Kapkikian was a giant in the field of virology“; “Al was my hero. He was a modest man who made remarkable discoveries in virology and saved many lives through his vaccines development efforts“. “Al was a great scientist […] He was a thoughtful, gentle, kind, enthusiastic, encouraging and extremely intelligent“.
Cathy, his wife, survived him together with his three sons (Albert, Tom and Gregg) and two grandchildren, Alexandre Zareh and Zachary.
Albert Kapikian, a great example for future generations.
Irene Pérez Schael