Lübeck vaccination failure

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For Lübeck Impfunglück came in 1930 with the introduction of BCG - vaccination against tuberculosis in Lübeck . It is the greatest vaccination accident of the 20th century. There were 77 fatalities in total.


Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin had developed an oral tuberculosis vaccination in 1921 after thirteen years of preparatory work, with which 150,000 children had been vaccinated outside Germany by 1928. Due to their many years of work in tuberculosis care, the head of the Lübeck health department Ernst Altstaedt and the director of the General Hospital Georg Deycke also decided to introduce vaccination for newborns in Lübeck .

The BCG culture, obtained from Paris at the beginning of August 1929 , was processed into vaccine by the conscientious but bacteriologically untrained nurse Anna Schütze in the Deyckes laboratory. The laboratory later turned out to be unsuitable for the production of vaccines, since a clear spatial separation between the vaccine cultures and the infectious tuberculosis cultures processed there was not possible.

The vaccination officially began on February 24, 1930. Deycke and Altstaedt negligently failed to check in animal experiments whether the vaccine culture had been contaminated with virulent tubercle bacilli during these seven months. The majority of parents gave written consent to the free vaccination. In the following two months, 256 newborns (around 84% of all newborns) were orally vaccinated against tuberculosis in Lübeck.

Since both were convinced of the harmlessness of the vaccination, Deycke and Altstaedt refrained from medical safety checks on the vaccinated children. They only planned a tuberculin test after six months to determine the effectiveness of the vaccination.

On April 17th, the first child died of tuberculosis. When three more children died shortly afterwards, Deycke stopped the vaccinations on April 26th. A total of 77 children died of extensive tuberculosis as a result of the contaminated vaccine. Another 131 vaccinated people fell ill. Because of this accident, the introduction of BCG vaccination in Germany was delayed until after the Second World War.

Calmette process

After the experts had sufficient time to clarify the causes of the vaccination gap, the Calmette trial was opened on October 12, 1931 before the Second Large Criminal Chamber of the Lübeck Regional Court . The prosecution was represented by the Lübeck Chief Public Prosecutor Cay Diedrich Lienau , while lawyer Ernst Wittern and lawyer Erich Frey were the co-plaintiffs . One of the defense lawyers was Adolf Ihde . The process also received a lot of international attention.

After a 76 day long trial, Georg Deycke was sentenced to two years in prison on February 6, 1932 for negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm . Deycke had negligently cultivated the BCG vaccine in a laboratory unsuitable for vaccine production and refrained from animal experiments. Deycke left Lübeck and died in 1938.

Altstaedt was sentenced to 15 months in prison for negligent homicide and negligent bodily harm. Altstaedt did not test the vaccine in animal experiments and only inadequately observed the children. The co-accused chairman of the Lübeck health department Max Klotz was acquitted, as was Deycke's laboratory assistant Anna Schütze.

The well-known press illustrator Emil Stumpp recorded the portraits of those involved in the process for posterity.

Later naming

Due to the familiarity of the old and the new Lübeck Dance of Death (representation of death affecting all social classes), the first major and one of the most serious vaccination incidents in medical history was also repeatedly called the Lübeck Dance of Death .


  • Leo Klauber . The infant deaths in Lübeck . In: The socialist doctor , 6th year (1930), issue 3 (July), pp. 113–115 digitized
  • Julius Moses: The Dance of Death from Lübeck . Dr. Madaus & Co. , Radebeul-Dresden 1930
  • The Lübeck disaster. In: American Journal of Public Health and the nation's health. Volume 21, number 3, March 1931, p. 282, PMID 18013220 , PMC 1556200 (free full text).
  • Henning von Beust, Heye Heyen (eds.): Calmette indictment in full / The indictment speeches from Lienau. Based on shorthand records, Lübeck, Albrecht & Vorkamp, ​​1932.
  • Adolf Ihde : Plea in criminal matters Prof. Dr. Deycke (so-called Calmette processes), Lübeck, January 27, 1932
  • Julius Edelhoff : The Calmette Process. In: Der Wagen 1984, pp. 62–68.
  • Andreas Jens Reuland: Human experiments in the Weimar Republic Norderstedt . Books on Demand GmbH (2004), ISBN 3-8334-1823-0 . Online version ( memento of January 15, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) of the relevant chapter
  • Peter Guttkuhn: Dr. jur. Alfred Cantor (1899–1968): From lawyer and notary in Lübeck to agricultural worker pioneer in the Negev . In: Israel Nachrichten, No. 11488. Tel Aviv, December 21, 2006, pp. 9-10.
  • Eckart Roloff : The Lübeck vaccination accident of 1930. A lesson in medical history. In: Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau, No. 819 (September 2016), pp. 461–463, ISSN 0028-1050.
  • Eckart Roloff and Karin Henke-Wendt: The Lübeck vaccination accident of 1930 and a quick trial. In: dies., Damaged instead of cured. Major German medical and pharmaceutical scandals. Hirzel, Stuttgart 2018, pp. 19–33, ISBN 978-3-7776-2763-2 .
  • Prof. Dr. Erich Frey: "Doctors in the dock" in: I request acquittal, Bertelsmann Lesering, 1960, pages 463-486, book no. 2623

Web links

Commons : Calmette Process  - collection of images, videos and audio files
  • The Lübeck Trial . Can. Med. Assoc. J. 26 (3) 1932 p. 362 (March 1932). - Brief contemporary account of some expert statements made during the process

Individual evidence

  1. Hanna Elisabeth Jonas, The Lübeck vaccination accident of 1930 as perceived by contemporary witnesses, dissertation, Lübeck, 2017
  2. Catalog raisonné (PDF; 1.6 MB) Stumpp with those involved in the Calmette process.