A celebration of achievement: Honouring the work of Dr. Harold Jennings

- Ottawa, Ontario

Dr. Harold Jennings
Dr. Harold Jennings

Originally from the United Kingdom, as a child Dr. Harold Jennings was drawn to science and loved to mix substances in his home chemistry set.

This love of science led him to several decades of research and development of a successful vaccine against meningitis C, a serious bacterial infection with potentially fatal consequences. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining of the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to death, hearing loss, cognitive deficits and loss of limbs.

Dr. Jennings and his team were the first to patent a method that chemically combines the complex sugars that cover the surface of Group C meningitis with a protein. This technique eventually led to the development of a combined "conjugate" vaccine that continues to save lives here in Canada and around the world. Through Dr. Jennings' continued and persistent efforts, NeisVac‑C—the conjugate vaccine he developed for immunizing both children and adults against Group C meningococcal meningitis—became commercially available at the turn of the millennium. Today, incidence of the disease has all but disappeared.

In 2005, Dr. Jennings was honoured for his dedication to saving lives by then‑NRC President Michael Raymont, who noted that Dr. Jennings "is one of those rare people who could, early on, see beyond the tables, numbers, and letters that intimidate so many young minds, and to recognize the patterns, the poetry, and the potential to create something new and exciting. We are delighted that he decided to bring this insight and wonder to the National Research Council here in Ottawa, but even more important, we are extremely grateful that he applied his wisdom and energy to issues of great public importance."

Over the years, Dr. Jennings has received numerous honours. In February 2015 at a ceremony at Rideau Hall, he was invested as Officer of the Order of Canada. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Infectious Disease Society of America and the Chemical Institute of Canada. He was a 2004 recipient of the SCI Kalev Pugi Award (Society of Chemical Industry), the 2003 Dr. Jonas Salk Award (Ontario March of Dimes) and the 2002 Manning Award of Distinction (Manning Foundation).

In brief

  • The NRC is committed to excellence in fundamental science, research and discovery. Dr. Harold Jennings is a credit to the NRC for his vision, dedication, and commitment to achieving improved health outcomes, particularly for infants and children.
  • Meningitis C is a serious bacterial infection of the fluid and lining of the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to death, hearing loss, cognitive deficits, and loss of limbs. It is known to be particularly virulent among children and infants.
  • Over the course of 3 decades beginning in the mid‑80s, Dr. Harold Jennings and his research team at the NRC successfully developed a conjugate vaccine to immunize children and adults against meningitis C. Today, meningitis C is conspicuous by its absence, with undoubtedly countless lives having been saved by this important vaccine.
  • Dr. Harold Jennings was a Principal Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada, where he started working in 1966 after completing his Masters and PhD at Queen's University in Kingston.