Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver

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"A timely, fair-minded and crisply written account."—New York Times Book ReviewVaccine juxtaposes the stories of brilliant scientists with the industry's struggle to produce safe, effective, and profitable vaccines. It focuses on the role of military and medical authority in the introduction of vaccines and looks at why some parents have resisted this authority. Political and social intrigue have often accompanied vaccination—from the divisive introduction of smallpox inoculation in colonial Boston to the 9,000 lawsuits recently filed by parents convinced that vaccines caused their children's autism. With narrative grace and investigative journalism, Arthur Allen reveals a history illuminated by hope and shrouded by controversy, and he sheds new light on changing notions of health, risk, and the common good.

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Editorial Reviews

David Oshinsky
The problem appears to be growing. As more children go unvaccinated in the United States, there has been a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases. Meanwhile, fewer pharmaceutical companies are now producing vaccines, citing the high cost of testing, diminishing markets and a fear of litigation. For Allen, a reversal of these trends will require something long overdue: a frank national discussion about the risks and benefits of vaccination. His splendid book is a smart place to begin.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Vaccines are one of the most important and controversial achievements in public health. Washington-based journalist Allen explores in depth this dark horse of medicine from the first instances of doctors saving patients from smallpox by infecting them with it to the current controversy over vaccinating preteen girls against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. One thing becomes very clear: fear of vaccination is not a recent problem. In colonial America, inoculations against smallpox were seen by many as a means of deflecting the will of God. In the 20th century, the triumphs of the Salk polio vaccine and the eradication of smallpox may actually have led to current antivaccination movements: "as infectious diseases disappeared, in part thanks to vaccines, the risks of vaccination itself were thrown into relief." Allen's comprehensive, often unexpected and intelligently told history illuminates the complexity of a public health policy that may put the individual at risk but will save the community. This book leaves the reader with a sense of awe at all that vaccination has accomplished and trepidation over the future of the vaccine industry. 16 pages of illus. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Vaccines fighting this season's flu strain, cervical cancer, shingles, and childhood inner-ear infections have hit the news, while medical researchers, funded by Gates Foundation dollars, labor feverishly to develop vaccines against the Third World curses of tuberculosis, malaria, and AIDS. The undeniable history of disease prevention via vaccine, however, masks thousands of individual and familial tragedies, the unintended consequences of contaminated vaccines or catastrophic immune reactions. While most parents view routine inoculations as a sacred responsibility, others see a herd of Trojan horses that threaten a beloved child. Noted Washington-based journalist Allen has explored these issues in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic Monthly. Here, he authoritatively and objectively records the miracles, controversies, and tragedies that have accompanied the development of vaccines since Edward Jenner first combated smallpox in the 18th century. A separate chapter explores the alleged relationship between thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, and autism. This compelling narrative of the vaccine's undoubted triumphs and troubling challenges is highly recommended to serious readers interested in medicine and public health. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-Kathy Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Washington-based journalist Allen looks closely at how authorities have imposed preventive vaccination against infectious diseases and how people have responded to that imposition. He opens with a consideration of vaccination's predecessor, variolation, in which smallpox virus taken directly from the pustule of a sick patient was scratched into a healthy person's skin in the hope of producing a less severe attack. The term "vaccination" was not used until after William Jenner's 1796 experiment, which eventually led to the eradication of smallpox but also to the organization of anti-vaccine groups opposed to it for religious or health reasons. By the mid-20th-century, vaccination against smallpox was no longer needed, but American children were routinely receiving shots to prevent some eight separate diseases. Allen provides an engrossing chapter on the development of a polio vaccine and the rivalry between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Equally fascinating are his accounts of how rubella (the R in the standard MMR shot) became a catalyst for change in this country's abortion laws; how an NBC-TV documentary on the dangers of whooping cough vaccine (the P in the DPT shot) affected public confidence in vaccines; and of the 1976 swine flu fiasco (some flu shot recipients subsequently suffered Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing neurological disorder). The author explores the reasons behind drug companies' growing reluctance to produce vaccines and parents' increasing hesitancy about having their children vaccinated, scrutinizing the charges that a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines causes autism. Vaccines, he reports, are now safer than ever, but public skepticism about their worthand safety is stronger than it has been in a long time. His clear, highly readable account describes the good that vaccines have done and the problems that vaccination faces. Solid, attention-holding history. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393331561
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/28/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 315,950
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Allen has written for the New
York Times Magazine, the Washington Post,
The Atlantic, the Associated Press, Science,
and Slate. His books include Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. He lives in
Washington, where he writes about health for Politico.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Vaccination and Politics     11
Experimenting on the Neighbors with Cotton Mather     25
The Peculiar History of Vaccinia     46
Vaccine Wars: Smallpox at the Turn of the Twentieth Century     70
Golden Age
War Is Good for Babies     115
The Great American Fight Against Polio     160
Battling Measles, Remodeling Society     215
DTP and the Vaccine Safety Movement     251
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished     294
People Who Prefer Whooping Cough     327
Vaccines and Autism?     371
Epilogue: Our Best Shots     421
Acknowledgments     443
Notes     445
Index     499
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2011

    An excellent resource and great read!

    This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is thorough, informative, and replete with interesting historical and scientific facts. As the caring parent of a small child and someone who is scientifically aware, this book was incredibly helpful in allowing me to make informed, confident decisions about vaccination, and at the same time helped debunk many of the common myths. The book was a pleasure to read.

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  • Posted October 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A good book for ignorant sheep

    This books title alone is offensive to those that know the truths behind the history of all unproven vaccines. Stop listening to the main stream media's lies and propaganda swill. The CDC, FDA and others are in bed with Big Pharma companies. Please begin real research into this genocidal farce. Start with these two web sites, and click on 'Articles". Save your children...think...and spread truth.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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