The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease Info

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"A real jewel of science history...brims with suspense and
now-forgotten catastrophe and intrigue...Wadman’s smooth prose
calmly spins a surpassingly complicated story into a real tour de
force."—The New York Times
“Riveting . .
. [The Vaccine Race] invites comparison with Rebecca Skloot's
2007 The Immortal Life of Henrietta
Lacks
.”—Nature 
The epic and
controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to
the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.


 
Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children
suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to
rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no
vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses.
In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted
from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that
allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common
childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating
German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would
one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made
with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in
the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells
and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected
billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox,
measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.
 
Meredith
Wadman’s masterful account recovers not only the science of this
urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the
scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women
exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners,
orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era.
These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal
tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs,
and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who
“owns” research cells and the profits made from biological
inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman
whose cells have been used to save countless lives.
 
With
another frightening virus--measles--on the rise today, no medical story
could have more human drama, impact, or urgency than The Vaccine
Race.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease:

4

February 21, 2017

It is a relief that Wadman reads easily. We can accept the ability of viruses to ...
Writers are ever attracted to the development of modern medicine and biochemistry. At the top of my list is the book "Cancer: the Emperor of all Maladies". Next could be "Science Fictions" and the life of Robert Gallo. Then might be the biography of Paul Berg at Stanford, and gene recombination. Now we have "The Vaccine Race", by Meredith Wadman. These tombs tend to present a challenge to the reader to accommodate the obscure language of Biochemistry. It is a relief that Wadman reads easily. We can accept the ability of viruses to grow in human fetal cells as a simple fact.

The life of a research scientist is a thread that runs through these books. After decades of research to the benefit of mankind, something happens to principle investigators. They become autocratic and difficult to work with. Worse, they break the law and the ethics of their profession. Their careers go up in smoke. The strain of cutting edge research and bureaucratic interference is too much to bear. We are humble before the limits of human ambition and endurance.

Wadman tells a good story, about the competition between pandemics and vaccines. It takes a few chapters to set her pace and then she takes off. If some chapters are too detailed, we can get the story from the first sentence in each paragraph.
2

March 2, 2017

... the human diploid rabies vaccine I thought I would enjoy this book - I did not
As a scientist and recipient of the human diploid rabies vaccine I thought I would enjoy this book - I did not. It is annoyingly repetitive (to the point where I thought my kindle has a flash back). The author "speaks" with a variety of "voices" - sometimes she uses scientific terms with descriptions and definitions, sometimes she uses over the top adjectives to describe scientists, events, or particular patients, and sometimes she makes novice mistakes as "Plasma is another word for blood serum." Mistakes like that (made by a physician) make one wonder about the veracity of her other scientific descriptions. It is unclear why she insists on using the word "womb" when describing the uterus, unless she believes it has more "emotional" connotation. One could expose the political and competitive issues in the vaccine race without bias. She did not do so. She frequently claims the moral high ground, apparently unaware that our current ability to enlarge our moral circle is a direct result of the fact that in the US (for the most part) our basic needs have been met, we do not suffer from mass epidemics that kill and paralyze, or maim or citizens, and we have disposable time and income. When read as a made for TV novel, rather than scientific history, it is an average, slightly cumbersome read. It could have been a great well written story - it was not
3

Apr 13, 2018

I had hoped this would be a comparable read to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, which are two of my absolute favorite books and were also among the first to turn me on to medical-themed literature. Instead, I found myself skimming through the book’s dense scientific and historical information: like Mukherjee’s other book, The Gene, which made last year’s Wellcome shortlist, The Vaccine Race is overstuffed with a mixture I had hoped this would be a comparable read to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, which are two of my absolute favorite books and were also among the first to turn me on to medical-themed literature. Instead, I found myself skimming through the book’s dense scientific and historical information: like Mukherjee’s other book, The Gene, which made last year’s Wellcome shortlist, The Vaccine Race is overstuffed with a mixture of the familiar (for me, at least – genetics), the seemingly irrelevant (cell culture techniques and scientific nomenclature), and the truly interesting (questions of medical ethics).

The unlikely protagonist of this story is Leonard Hayflick, a single-minded and resourceful researcher who is still alive in his late eighties and assented to dozens of interviews and many more e-mails as Wadman put this book together. While in high school Hayflick made a chemistry lab in his basement, and in college he built his father a dental lab: that tells you how driven he was. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he worked at the Wistar Institute on its campus. He chiefly investigated whether viruses cause cancer and whether a cell line will be immortal or subject to the normal rules of aging – the Hayflick limit, named after him, is the number of cell divisions possible before a cell line dies out.

Hayflick experimented on his third child’s placenta, but also on aborted fetuses from the university hospital. Replacement fetal cell lines sourced from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden were used to produce the polio, rubella and rabies vaccines. In particular, he relied on the WI-38 line he developed from fetal cells taken from the Swedish “Mrs. X,” who – like Henrietta Lacks’s family – was never compensated; she did not want to be interviewed for or mentioned by name in this book. In the 1970s, with Roe v. Wade in the pipeline, the controversy over using aborted fetal tissue in research heated up*, and Hayflick was somewhat disgraced in the course of a 1976 lawsuit about his right to profit from WI-38.

But that’s not the only dubious ethical situation associated with the development of the twentieth century’s major vaccines: Hayflick’s bosses and associates had also tested early vaccines on intellectually disabled child “volunteers,” while a celebrated cancer researcher had injected cells into dying hospital patients and healthy prisoners in the name of science. Wadman writes, “by the mid-1960s, ordinary people were becoming less willing to give scientists carte blanche to tinker with human beings on a ‘Trust me, I know what’s best for you’ basis.” The question is whether these morally suspect strategies were worth it, given the alternative: rubella in pregnancy causes severe birth defects including blindness, while polio can be crippling and untreated rabies can lead to a slow and painful death.

These ethical questions are certainly worth thinking about, though the abortion history in particular is probably of much more interest to American readers. Here in Europe, abortion is a non-issue, so I don’t expect anyone to get fired up about the history of fetal tissue research. Wadman is certainly a thorough researcher and capable storyteller who doesn’t talk down when explaining science. That said, she might have scaled back on the science a bit to ensure that her work holds broader appeal for lay readers of popular science and medical history.

*More recently, Debi Vinnedge’s Children of God for Life nonprofit has opposed stem cell research despite a Vatican ruling that vaccines developed from fetal tissue are acceptable to use as long as there is no alternative.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck. ...more
5

Mar 13, 2017

This is what I knew about vaccines prior to reading this book:

* Vaccines work by delivering a killed or live, but weakened, version of a virus into the body, stimulating the body’s immune system into producing antibodies without actually causing an infection.
* Edward Jenner gets a lot of credit for using cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox, though he wasn’t the first to think about this.
* Vaccines are responsible for preventing death, disability, and disfigurement due to such diseases as This is what I knew about vaccines prior to reading this book:

* Vaccines work by delivering a killed or live, but weakened, version of a virus into the body, stimulating the body’s immune system into producing antibodies without actually causing an infection.
* Edward Jenner gets a lot of credit for using cowpox to vaccinate against smallpox, though he wasn’t the first to think about this.
* Vaccines are responsible for preventing death, disability, and disfigurement due to such diseases as smallpox, polio, measles, and even the flu. Indeed, we’ve eradicated smallpox and almost completely eradicated polio!
* Vaccines do not cause autism.

I love reading books like The Vaccine Race, because they make me realize how much I didn’t know that I don’t know about things! In this case, while I knew what vaccines were, I realized that I didn’t actually know how we make vaccines, the process used to kill or weaken the virus. Meredith Wadman explains this, along with all sorts of related developments in the science of vaccination. The title of this book is somewhat inaccurate, or at least too narrow: The Vaccine Race is really the story of virology and immunology in the 20th century. After all, the central character of this story is Leonard Hayflick, who does not himself develop vaccines but rather a critical line of “normal” human tissue cells that become integral to many vaccine efforts. This story goes far beyond the creation of vaccines, touching broadly on issues of biological research and human health.

This is a story, albeit one supported heavily by research. Wadman begins from Hayflick’s earliest days as a scientist, chronicling his studies and start at the Wistar Institute. Along the way, she takes us on digressions to talk about other important figures and the vaccines they worked on. I love the amount of detail that Wadman goes into with regards to the science being done; equally, though, this is not just a book about science but a book about history. Wadman sets out to examine how social conditions and politics in the United States influenced vaccine development, and vice versa.

The history herein is a mixed bag, and Wadman tries to celebrate the progressive aspects while acknowledging the shameful, harmful parts. She does not ignore the fact that vaccines were often tested on poor children and orphans, intellectually disabled people, prisoners, and military personnel. In so doing, she doesn’t just highlight the ethical problems with this, but the way they were embedded within the society of the time:

In 1950 Koprowski began testing his vaccine on intellectually disabled children at Letchworth Village, a filthy, overcrowded institution for people with physical and mental disabilities in the tiny town of Thiells, New York.

Wadman makes it clear here that Dr. Hilary Koprowski didn’t just happen along some intellectually disabled children—they were warehoused, making them ideal for his experiment. Of course, it’s difficult for me to say that things have gotten any better in the present day, considering we incarcerate our mentally ill when we should be helping them…. Anyway, I think the way that Wadman presents these dubious aspects of vaccine development is an important reminder that science is a human endeavour and therefore vulnerable to human flaws.

It is impossible, in fact, to separate science and politics. We must push back against people who insist this is possible, people who think that scientists have no business commenting on public policy, that the existence of global warming has no bearing on how we conduct our lives. The Vaccine Race is a potent primer on science, but it’s an even better look into the political framework in which science was done in the 20th century United States. The scientists in this book lived and died by funding, which often came in the form of grants from government institutions like the National Institute of Health. Moreover, scientists in positions of power were not above using their influence to spin things their way:

Koprowski had minimized the SV40 monkey virus problem only four months earlier, when his own monkey kidney–based polio vaccine was still in the running for U.S. approval. Now, with Sabin’s vaccine rolling quickly toward being licensed, he sounded more alarmed.

The scientific facts were that the SV40 virus existed and that it could potentially survive the vaccine-making progress—but the potential for harm that this posed was still up in the air, and as you can see, Koprowski was willing to change his tune if he thought he could benefit. Someone who was a brilliant scientist—or, more notably perhaps, had a talent for recognizing, grooming, and enabling the brilliance of other scientists—nevertheless keenly acted in his own self-interests when he should have been safeguarding the public good.

The officials in charge of government institutions could also play a huge role in aiding or standing in the way of progress. Wadman discusses how the Department of Biological Standards dragged its feet on allowing vaccines made with WI-38 cells to be licensed in the US, but the rest of the world wasn’t so conservative:

If the WI-38 cells were ignored in the United States, abroad they were increasingly embraced.… It was a sign of the esteem in which Hayflick’s WI-38 cells were held that the British vaccine authorities … decided, perhaps as a matter of national pride, to derive their own analogous normal, noncancerous human diploid cells.

I appreciate that, although largely about the US vaccine industry, the book acknowledges the global scope of medical research. In many cases, crucial advances in vaccines happened because of testing in other countries, or the participation of scientists from other countries—as is the case of Mrs. X and her aborted fetus shipped from Sweden to Hayflick to donate the cells that would become WI-38. Similarly, Wadman reminded me of the importance of scientific conferences—what might seem like a social occasion is really a chance for scientists to recombine ideas and find new, interesting avenues of exploration. If it weren’t for a meeting at a conference, Elizabeth Blackburn might not have heard of Alexei Olovnikov’s little-known theory of cellular aging and connected them to her work on telomeres. Crazy.

Much of The Vaccine Race’s political treatment emphasizes the ways in which scientific and medical research’s evolution into an industry has shaped that research, for better or for worse. The pressure on scientists to secure lucrative grants, make big discoveries, and then patent those discoveries is intense. Post-secondary institutions have essentially turned into patent machines, in a sense, and this can often have an adverse effect on the quality of teaching and learning at that institution, not to mention the actual science being done and the mental health of the scientists doing it.

Still, while I have been and remain critical of the pharmaceutical industry’s power, influence, and actions, I appreciate how Wadman shows the positive effects of nascent Big Pharma’s embrace of vaccines. At the risk of arguing counterfactually, I’m not sure how effective vaccination would be if it were not for the vaccine production industry. And I have no doubts that vaccines are good. At 27, I am old enough not to have been vaccinated with chicken pox (I have vivid memories of that itch when I was a kid, and then three occurrences of what might have been shingles in my early 20s). But I am too young to remember any kind of developed world scarred by polio, rubella, and measles:

In the end, the rubella epidemic that swept the United States in 1964 and 1965 infected an estimated 12.5 million people, or 1 in 15 Americans. More than 159,000 of these infections included joint pain or arthritis, typically in women. Roughly 2,100 people developed encephalitis, a brain inflammation with a 20 percent mortality rate.

Some 6,250 pregnancies ended in miscarriages or stillbirths. An estimated 5,000 women chose to get abortions. Still another 2,100 babies were born, and survived, with congenital rubella syndrome. Of these, more than 8,000 were deaf; nearly 4,000 were both deaf and blind; and 1,800 were intellectually disabled. About 6,600 babies had other manifestations of congenital rubella, most typically heart defects. Often babies were born with several of these disabilities.

These numbers are, at the very best, approximations. They come from a 1969 CDC report whose authors stressed that it was not until 1966 that physicians were required to report rubella cases to authorities.

Just think about that. It boggles my mind, those numbers—they are approximate, because physicians weren’t keeping track! And that was for one epidemic among a recurring cycle of epidemics every 5 years or so! Vaccines have saved literally millions of people from death or needless suffering, and The Vaccine Race is an up-front reminder of how fortunate we are for these discoveries.

The Vaccine Race is a first-rate example of science communication. Wadman is detailed but clear in her writing. I could have done without some of that detail, I think—she loves to tell me all about the backstories of every minor character in the book, and at points my eyes glazed over—but I love this blending of science and history. Moreover, this book is meticulously research, and it shows! In addition to numerous primary and secondary print sources, Wadman interviewed any key players who were still alive (a benefit to writing about recent history!). As a result, she can provide a comprehensive and intimate look at the topic, while remaining somewhat more journalistic than a book written by someone directly involved, such as Hayflick himself. I learned so many interesting things in here. I am quite thankful for NetGalley and Viking making a copy of this book available to me to review.

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3

Apr 22, 2018

Around 60 years ago it was still possible for pregnant mothers exposed to German Measles or rubella, to have children that were born with crippling birth defects. No one really knew how the virus affected the unborn child, nor did they know the best way to fight against this disease. It was understood how you could make a vaccine to combat the virus that caused this illness and others like chicken pox, rabies, and polio, but early attempts with animal cell-based vaccines caused as many problems Around 60 years ago it was still possible for pregnant mothers exposed to German Measles or rubella, to have children that were born with crippling birth defects. No one really knew how the virus affected the unborn child, nor did they know the best way to fight against this disease. It was understood how you could make a vaccine to combat the virus that caused this illness and others like chicken pox, rabies, and polio, but early attempts with animal cell-based vaccines caused as many problems as the illness they were trying to cure.

In 1962, a young biologist, Leonard Hayflick, in Philadelphia extracted cells from an aborted foetus that managed to turn the tide. These clean cells allowed scientist to create vaccines that were safe for almost everyone to use, and it carried the bland description of WI-38. This tiny collection of cells would be expanded time after time to be used to protect over 150 million children in America. Some of the cells he extracted and the methods he developed to get safe vaccines have saved billions of lives around the world.

But it almost didn't happen. Given the source of the cells, there were countless political hurdles to overcome as well as complaints from pro-life groups who were incandescent with rage about it, but the scientist persevered and the vaccines got made and sent out in the world. Wadman has pieced together this story of how the cells were created, how the testing that was done on the uninformed and how that couldn't happen these days. The distribution of these medicines helped create some of the worlds largest companies as the profits poured in. Whilst getting the detail right is important, the narrative that is so crucial in these books got a little lost in amongst all the technical explanations at times. It is a very important story that Wadman is telling though, especially given that fact that we may well be on the dawn of a new era in medicine with the rise of immunity against antibiotics. The one flaw though is that the book is very American centric with little UK and European interest, which is a shame as I feel that this would have a broader audience otherwise. ...more
0

Apr 03, 2018

Just had to DNF this as it was too slow going. Not necessarily a bad book, just very dense and I think aimed at someone who has prior knowledge or is passionate to learn about viruses, rather than a casual reader.
4

May 16, 2017

Illuminating the obscure events that created the biotechnology industry.
I'm a retired bioscientist and can remember well the events described by Meredith Wadmax, many of which were known at the time only within the biomedical research community. She effectively put together the history of how arcane research and contentious, but obscure, power struggles among scientists and funding agencies eventually gave rise to the biotechnology revolution, leading to the emergence of an economically important and beneficial industry.
5

April 27, 2017

Everybody should read The Vaccine Race so we would have an informed public around the issue(s) of vaccines we use
The Vaccine Race gets five stars because it's a handicap race --- ie given that it's a book about boring science, it's at least four stars, so it gets five stars from me. It's about Leonard Hayflick and his cultured animal cells. See? Doesn't that leave you cold? It's so arcane and esoteric, you never heard of him, and have only a hazy idea what's up with "cultured animal cells", although since that book came out about Henrietta Lacks and her HeLa cells, we now have quite a few people who have more than a hazy idea of what that's all about, which is good. I'm from Philadelphia and went to Penn and even knew a little bit about the Wistar INstitute at 36th and Pine, so I'm a good judge of whether Ms Wadman did a good job here of giving the flavor of the times and the scientific backdrop for what these guys were doing. She did a fine job of reporting, and it's well written and pretty interesting. I hope a lot of people read The Vaccine Race because one way or another you'll all get to know a lot more about vaccines like MMR ; and vaccines in general; all of which is important. Hell, it's CRUCIAL! Everybody should have some idea of the PROCESS involved. Read it.
0

Feb 18, 2017

Disclaimer: I got an advance proof from Viking through a Goodreads giveaway.
The title snagged my attention because I am a science geek; but also at the thought of the story of the human cost. And the book did not disappoint. I will say the one bad thing right up front. The story jumped around a lot, making it sometimes hard to follow. But the author had so many people, places, and times to cover that I don't know that she could have avoided that in telling such a sweep of science and modern Disclaimer: I got an advance proof from Viking through a Goodreads giveaway.
The title snagged my attention because I am a science geek; but also at the thought of the story of the human cost. And the book did not disappoint. I will say the one bad thing right up front. The story jumped around a lot, making it sometimes hard to follow. But the author had so many people, places, and times to cover that I don't know that she could have avoided that in telling such a sweep of science and modern history.
There is a lot of personal background on the scientists that paints them as real people. Dr. Hayflick provides that string through the story that helps with the timeline and other flows. But even more than him, the cells that he grows in cultures are the flow from start to finish in their importance for developing and understanding vaccines and many aspects of biological progress.
The human costs aspect of the book was intriguing, since it was two-fold. There is a good bit of history of the diseases for which these vaccines were developed. The stories of children who were crippled by polio; adults killed by rabies; and babies born with defects because of rubella absolutely break your heart. And they have you rooting for the scientists developing the vaccines.
But just as you are ready to stand and cheer them on, the stories of the experiments and trials churn forward. From there you are left, mouth agape, at the thought that humans did such things to each other. I won't list the types of people they used for fear of spoiling the story for you. But it is worth the read to see what was done, and how things have changed.
And the personal cost is not ignored, in that the cells used for much of this story came from aborted fetuses. The Vaccine Race is a fascinating and worthwhile read. ...more
5

Feb 27, 2017

Mind blowing. What Wadman reveals in The Vaccine Race will have you questioning your own ethics and morals. While Wadman discusses the very fascinating history of vaccines, she also reveals the unregulated, exploitative experiments on orphans, prisons, newborns, and intellectually disabled children that were tested on and/or harmed irrevocably in the process creating many vaccines.

Wadman executes a neutral balance of the pros and cons in the history of vaccines, discussing the significant Mind blowing. What Wadman reveals in The Vaccine Race will have you questioning your own ethics and morals. While Wadman discusses the very fascinating history of vaccines, she also reveals the unregulated, exploitative experiments on orphans, prisons, newborns, and intellectually disabled children that were tested on and/or harmed irrevocably in the process creating many vaccines.

Wadman executes a neutral balance of the pros and cons in the history of vaccines, discussing the significant impact made in the battle against diseases as well as raising questions of what is ethically and morally acceptable. The Vaccine Race will leave many questioning if the gain worth the cost.

...more
4

March 8, 2017

A well-written book on an interesting subject
This nonfiction account of the spectacular and life-saving advances in vaccine development over the last fifty or so years is in some ways reminiscent of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. Until you see it set out before you, it is difficult to imagine or remember how much important history has passed in this field in just the last few decades.

The book begins and ends with Leonard Hayflick, a cell biologist credited with, among other things, discovery of the Hayflick Limit, an amorphous number that identifies how many times cells, especially human cells, can split and thus reproduce in a laboratory culture. In effect he established that non-cancerous cells cannot live and expand in culture indefinitely, which was in direct contradiction to the established wisdom of the day. He developed a human cell culture known as WI-38 that had the remarkable quality of being able to culture or reproduce in the lab multiple times without becoming cancerous or developing other anomalies. He promoted these cells vigorously for the purpose of researching cell aging, and, perhaps more importantly, for use in producing “clean” vaccines.

Hayflick was a controversial figure for several reasons. He was treated as hired help at the Wistar Institute where he worked culturing cells for the virus researchers, the supposed stars, a fact that he deeply resented. His discovery of cell death was not easily accepted by the scientific community, but more than that, it was his fateful, and questionable, decision to take the WI-38 cells he had developed with a government grant to his new position at Stanford University, and eventually to begin selling them through his own corporation. Some at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) considered him a thief while others saw him as an underappreciated scientist of outstanding ability.

The book is not a biography of Hayflick, however, although he is the central figure. Other virus researchers, doctors, biologists and bureaucrats are featured at length. The process of cell culture and vaccine development is described in considerable detail in language a layman like me can understand. I was awestruck at how complex the process is. Really top-notch science is required – hands-on lab work especially – and some risky experiments and testing that raise ethical questions. Experiments of the day involved inoculating subjects with untested vaccines, including live ones that could give him the disease. Subjects were often orphans, prisoners, soldiers, babies, the mentally deficient, and others who had little or no ability to consent. Many or even most were unaware that they were even test subjects. The diseases involved included polio, rubella (German measles), rabies, and adenovirus. The WI-38 cells were derived from an aborted fetus. It is clear that the field is replete with controversial and ethically troubling issues.

The writing is clear and workmanlike, if not particularly elegant. To my taste there was too much time spent on the upbringing and background of the various figures in the book when it should have focused more on the science. The author also had an irritating tendency to repeat. Virtually every time a vaccine or person was mentioned it was followed by clause informing us for the umpteenth time who or what that was. I’m not an idiot. I can remember the person who was just the subject of a long chapter twenty pages ago and mentioned fifty times earlier in the book. It made the book overlong. It also focused too much on the intellectual property controversy over the ownership of the WI-38 cells and Hayflick’s alleged wrongdoing. He was, by all accounts, a star in the field of cell biology and a decent human being whose work led to the development of new or improved vaccines preventing thousands, perhaps millions, of deaths and other suffering, and to scientific advancements that brought Nobel prizes to others who built on his work. Still, all in all, it was a well-written book on an interesting subject.
4

Feb 18, 2018

This book chronicles the life of Dr Leonard Hayflick, who rose from humble beginnings as a poor Jewish kid from Southwest Philadelphia to become the inventor of the first human diploid cell line, and to determine that these and other normal human cells can only divide a limited number of times before they die, which later became known as the Hayflick limit. One cell line, WI-38, created while he was a staff member of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, became the host for viruses used to This book chronicles the life of Dr Leonard Hayflick, who rose from humble beginnings as a poor Jewish kid from Southwest Philadelphia to become the inventor of the first human diploid cell line, and to determine that these and other normal human cells can only divide a limited number of times before they die, which later became known as the Hayflick limit. One cell line, WI-38, created while he was a staff member of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, became the host for viruses used to create effective vaccines against rubella (German measles) by Dr Stanley Plotkin, and against rabies, by Dr Hilary Koprowski, the long time director of the Wistar Institute, and his colleagues. Hayflick is portrayed as a dedicated and driven but underrecognized researcher, whose dogged persistence and willingness to skirt established norms allowed him to gain recognition for his discoveries, but led him to fall afoul of the National Institutes of Health, which derailed his work at the height of his career.

In The Vaccine Race, Wadman also describes the devastating effects that congenital rubella had on affected infants and their parents, along with rabies, an infection that is nearly always fatal if not diagnosed in time. The book also covers the fierce internecine battles within the Wistar Institute, and amongst the research teams who worked feverishly to become the first to have their vaccines created and approved for public use, while undermining their competitors at the same time. The massive egos of these researchers and the government officials charged with approving the vaccines are on full display as well.

The Vaccine Race is an extensively researched and well written account of the major players in the development of human diploid cell lines for research, and the vaccines that were successfully created by using them, particularly Hayflick's WI-38 line. The book is written for the general public, and Wadman does a fine job of explaining detailed and complicated scientific and medical information. It is a lengthy read, but a rewarding and entertaining one as well. ...more
4

Oct 12, 2017

I really enjoyed this, and I read it at a very opportune moment — at exactly the same time as I had my lab skills residential school in Milton Keynes. The techniques described were mostly not the same, but there was some crossover, and it was great to think about how I might one day contribute to the same science, if I go that route. My only quibbles with this book were with the sometimes unfocused feel; there’s a lot of scientists which it tracks quite closely, and sometimes I wondered how I really enjoyed this, and I read it at a very opportune moment — at exactly the same time as I had my lab skills residential school in Milton Keynes. The techniques described were mostly not the same, but there was some crossover, and it was great to think about how I might one day contribute to the same science, if I go that route. My only quibbles with this book were with the sometimes unfocused feel; there’s a lot of scientists which it tracks quite closely, and sometimes I wondered how relevant all of the details are.

It’s also got a bit of a divide between the WI-38 cells, which were used to make vaccines, and the vaccines themselves; there’s a lot of focus on the cell line, and sometimes that wasn’t directly relevant to the vaccines. It’s interesting stuff, particularly when it comes to the commercialisation of science, but it didn’t always feel like it fit with the story of the vaccine race. In that sense, it sometimes felt like two almost-separate books. It’s also odd because Wadman clearly champions Hayflick, the creator of the cell line, despite his rather indefensible actions — dismissing them as being due to ‘stubbornness’. Sorry, but if you have a legal contract and you’ve agreed to it, you can’t just forget about it. If you object to the way things are being sorted out, you don’t abscond with the cell line — you get a lawyer.

It doesn’t sound like Hayflick meant any harm, though I am conscious of Wadman’s bias there, and it’s probably true that he deserved better from the use of his cell line — but even so, he was not in the right.

Other than that, there are also some very worthwhile discussions of the ethics of vaccine production. They were often tested on vulnerable people who couldn’t consent, and the WI-38 cell line came originally from the lung cells of an aborted foetus. It’s worth remembering these facts, even with the undoubted good done by the availability of vaccines.

Definitely recommend this one.

Reviewed for The Bibliophibian. ...more
4

Apr 22, 2017

This was a very interesting book. To be clear, this is much more of a science book than a political book, but the science speaks for itself. I read "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" several years ago, and this book has some similar themes regarding cell lines (although not as dramatic). I learned a lot about how vaccines were developed from reading this book. I did not realize how naive I was! When I was pregnant it was determined that I would need a Rubella booster, but no one explained to me This was a very interesting book. To be clear, this is much more of a science book than a political book, but the science speaks for itself. I read "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" several years ago, and this book has some similar themes regarding cell lines (although not as dramatic). I learned a lot about how vaccines were developed from reading this book. I did not realize how naive I was! When I was pregnant it was determined that I would need a Rubella booster, but no one explained to me how important it was and I took it for granted. Considering I was born in the 70's I wonder now after reading this book which Rubella vaccine I received that left me unprotected as an adult. I had also previously thought that the current situation with Zika (a virus that threatens unborn babies) was a new phenomenon, but now I realize that this is not the first time our world has been faced with a virus that threatens fetal health. To clarify, I was pro-vaccine before reading this book and I remain pro-vaccine. As soon as I hit save on this review I am heading to the March for Science! ...more
5

May 8, 2017

A Must Read for Science and Medical reasons
A well written history of the development of several of the key vaccines, staring in the 1950's and running all the way to the 1990's. Vaccines are one of the most important medical breakthroughs (along with penicillin) of the 20th century responsible for savings hundreds of millions of lives and eradicating some of the most horrible diseases of our time. Yet, we still have doubters and still occasional flare ups when people stop vaccinating! Ms. Wadman weaves together the science (it is not linear, doesn't happen without setbacks and often corner cutting!), politics, legal and ethical issues using several larger than life personalities to do so. Provides a great base for understanding some of the key battles that exist to this day.
3

Jan 09, 2018

It's interesting to learn about the innumerable intricacies and machinations come into play in order to generate something that is truly paradigm-changing. When people discuss going back to a time before agriculture (I'm looking at you, Derek Jensen) two of the major things that would prevent me from wanting to do so are antibiotics and vaccinations. See, I am very happy to live in a time where the only needless childhood illness that I suffered from was the Chicken Pox, and I was among the last It's interesting to learn about the innumerable intricacies and machinations come into play in order to generate something that is truly paradigm-changing. When people discuss going back to a time before agriculture (I'm looking at you, Derek Jensen) two of the major things that would prevent me from wanting to do so are antibiotics and vaccinations. See, I am very happy to live in a time where the only needless childhood illness that I suffered from was the Chicken Pox, and I was among the last to even have to suffer from that. I am grateful that my parents had me vaccinated against so many illnesses that could have killed me had I grown up 100 or even 50 years prior to when I did.

The Vaccine Race really explores what went into the childhood vaccines that we take for granted today. (Or maybe, we don't. See the resurgence of whooping cough as a terribly reality that just because some folks don't believe in science, doesn't mean that science still can't hurt them.) Not only do you have the egos of prominent physicians, surgeons, and medical researchers; not only do you have a research environment devoid of informed consent and HIPAA; not only do you have government officials who may or may not have the public's best interest in sight; not only do you have whistleblowers and those with varying philosophies, religions and ethics; but then you have all of these forces converging to lead to the medical landscape that we inhabit today, for better or for worse.

I found myself, unknowingly, in a state of suspense while reading this book. The human fetal cell vaccinations, although not a panacea by any means, were found to be so superior to animal-kidney vaccines and yet were fought against on many fronts due to either personal vendettas or religious beliefs. I kept thinking "oh man, the government needs to approve a human fetal cell rubella vaccine before 1984 so that I can get it!" (Spoiler alert: they did!)

In all, this book was damn interesting. I had a hard time putting it down. However, I do read a lot of nonfiction and take a large interest in medical literature, maybe because my dad being a doctor has always made me wonder "what if" I had gone down the career path of medical researcher rather than engineer / research scientist. Still, I highly recommend it if history, medicine, science or all three of those things interest you. ...more
2

Feb 28, 2017

Somewhat mistitled, this book is actually about one of my favorite scientific techniques, cell culture, and one scientist who generated a valuable cell line that was subsequently used in creating some of vaccines. The author has a specific viewpoint on the topic, which colors the story is a rather negative light, not unlike Skloot's book on Henrietta Lacks. Since I am much more neutral on the subject, I was not very impressed by the book. I thought the book relied on some dubious sources (e.g., Somewhat mistitled, this book is actually about one of my favorite scientific techniques, cell culture, and one scientist who generated a valuable cell line that was subsequently used in creating some of vaccines. The author has a specific viewpoint on the topic, which colors the story is a rather negative light, not unlike Skloot's book on Henrietta Lacks. Since I am much more neutral on the subject, I was not very impressed by the book. I thought the book relied on some dubious sources (e.g., "The River," a book claiming that a polio vaccine tested in Africa was the source of HIV, now disproven) and was unduly partisan. ...more
4

Jun 06, 2018

This was fascinating, the history of vaccine research and trial-and-error, the beginnings of fetal tissue research (which I had zero idea about and am SO fascinated by), abortion, and a whole pile of questions about medical ethics. This is perhaps a little more dense than, say, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which I loved, btw), but it was a topic I knew very little about and really appreciated and am fascinated by Wadman's introduction.
4

September 4, 2017

While I don't agree with some of the conclusions the ...
While I don't agree with some of the conclusions the author reached I found the discussion of vaccines, its production and difficulties described to be very enlightening.
5

March 31, 2017

Highly recommended
When I started this book I knew nothing about immunology. I'm not even a scientist. But from the beginning, I was hooked. There were heroes and villains, drama, a captivating story, and lots of fascinating information. Highly recommended.
4

December 22, 2017

how humanity learned that our cells have limited life, and how virus-free cells enable development of vaccines to viral disease.
I found pages 44-74 electrifying. Those pages explain how Hayflick came to discover that human cells can reproduce only about 50 times before they die of old age. Earlier workers who imagined human cells could reproduce indefinitely had mistakenly included cancerous cells. Meticulous lab work beginning from aborted fetus's enabled him to grow virus free human cells. Haflick's cancer free cells were the ideal medium for developing vaccines against viruses, hence the book title. The remainder of the book revolved more around competing humans and institutions, topics of less interest to me.
4

Jul 17, 2018

Once upon a time scientific research was done for the well-being of mankind . Somehow during the second half of the 20th century the motivation of research scientists appears to have changed. It became much a cut-throat business. Meredith Wadman's book describes how research scientists variably supported each other, assisted each other, blocked each other, tripped each other and stole each other's ideas.

Much of the focus is on Leonard Hayflick and his development of a growth medium cells Once upon a time scientific research was done for the well-being of mankind . Somehow during the second half of the 20th century the motivation of research scientists appears to have changed. It became much a cut-throat business. Meredith Wadman's book describes how research scientists variably supported each other, assisted each other, blocked each other, tripped each other and stole each other's ideas.

Much of the focus is on Leonard Hayflick and his development of a growth medium cells derived from fetal lung tissue (WI-38) for use in developing vaccines. He was competing with growth medium cells coming from green monkey brain and duck embryo, both likely to harbor bacteria or cancer causing agents. Hayflick fought for over a decade to have his growth medium approved. We learn how Stanley Plotkin developed his vaccine for Rubella and then others for polio, rabies, chicken pox adenovirus etc.

An ethical question that I have always tossed around was whether biomedical companies are entitled to take cells from a patient without consent and use them in experiments. In Rebecca Skloot's fabulous non-fiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, HeLa cells came from the cervical cancer cells of Lacks half a century ago and are still used generating billions of dollars for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, while the progeny of Henrietta Lacks are unable to afford college. I don't know the fate of Mrs. X from whose aborted fetus derived the lung cells that generated WI-38 growth cells in 1967, which are still being used today. I do know that billions of dollars have been made and that Mrs. X profited nothing.

One thing that I found interesting and heartbreaking was how scientists did, and do to this day use marginalized people as test subjects. In June 1966 Henry Beecher, a doctor who specialized in anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, published an article entitled "Ethics and Clinical Research" in New England Journal of Medicine. It shook the medical establishment.

Beecher outlined, without naming names or institutions, twenty-two human experiments chosen from the medical literature from 1948 through 1965 that, he reported, had risked the health or life of their subjects. "Grave consequences have been suffered as a direct result of experiments described here," the paper began--experiments for which, Beecher wrote, "it must be apparent that (subjects) would not have been available if they had been truly aware of the uses that would be made of them."

The experiments had been conducted by doctors at prestigious hospitals and universities, including the Clinical Center, the huge research hospital at the NIH. They had been published in top medical journals and funded by the NIH, the U.S. military, drug companies, and private foundations. What was more, Beecher had chosen the twenty-two from a far longer list of ethically suspect studies that had not been difficult to compile. The abuses are everywhere.

In one experiment doctors had withheld chloramphenicol, a treatment known to effectively fight typhoid fever, from charity patients with the disease, to see if they died at greater rates than patients who received the drug. (They did.) In another, they witheld penicillin, which was known to be effective against strep throat, from a control group of 109 U.S. airmen with the ailment, knowing that they could develop well-known, potentially life-threatening complications. Three men went on to do so after the bacteria in their throats spread. Children in an institution for the "mentally defective" were purposely infected with hepatitis A virus (This institution, it emerged, was New York's Willwbrook State School for the Retarded, another horrible holding pen, and the pediatrician who infected the children was the prominent Saul Krugman, the same man who had earlier infected children with rubella.) Separately twenty-two elderly, senile hospitalized patients were injected with living liver cancer cells and told simply that they were receiving "some cells." Leading this trial was the prominent cancer scientist Chester Southam of Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, whose example Hayflick and Moorhead had followed in deciding to inject dying cancer patients with the new human diploid cells in 1960. The list went on.

Johns Hopkins Medical Center continues to this day to use marginalized persons for test subjects without their knowledge or consent.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs...

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/17/us...

One side of the Johns Hopkins campus edges on a poor black section of Baltimore where parents claim that their children have disappeared. According to Rebecca Skloot, , mothers warn their children "Be in before dark ~ Else da Hopkins'll git ya!" ...more
3

Feb 13, 2018

This book centered around Hayflick, and his cells, although it did a good job of portraying how devastating diseases such as Rubella and Polio used to be. Wadman also spends considerable time on the shift from "doing science for the good of mankind" to the rise of the big pharma companies from today.

Although Wadman tries to bring in plenty of human interest by telling the stories of people affected by diseases (as well as the by the vaccines), I found the book a little dry. I saw it was compared This book centered around Hayflick, and his cells, although it did a good job of portraying how devastating diseases such as Rubella and Polio used to be. Wadman also spends considerable time on the shift from "doing science for the good of mankind" to the rise of the big pharma companies from today.

Although Wadman tries to bring in plenty of human interest by telling the stories of people affected by diseases (as well as the by the vaccines), I found the book a little dry. I saw it was compared to the "Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks", however, Wadman's book reads much more like a textbook than Skloot's does. Still, if you are interested in biology, science, and the history of vaccines this book is well worth reading. ...more
3

September 13, 2017

Three Stars
Slow going and a bit repetitive
3

Jul 26, 2017

This is a great non-fiction book spanning the history of the vaccine. It covers the science, the politics, the human drama and the morality.

Wadman jumped around just a little to much for me. I feel the subject matter she decided to tackle was really just too much for a single book. A little less detail (or a little more editing!) in places would have really helped this book. Perhaps an abridged version for the passingly interested? For example I didn't much care about the family life of some of This is a great non-fiction book spanning the history of the vaccine. It covers the science, the politics, the human drama and the morality.

Wadman jumped around just a little to much for me. I feel the subject matter she decided to tackle was really just too much for a single book. A little less detail (or a little more editing!) in places would have really helped this book. Perhaps an abridged version for the passingly interested? For example I didn't much care about the family life of some of the scientists, descriptions of their romantic and personal lives didn't further the story for me. She has tried to make a Henrietta Lacks style personal story but the subject is too broad to have the same impact.

This is still a solid and interesting read though. Wadman explores how this branch of medicine quickly became an industry and what that has meant for us as consumers. She discusses the far reaching effect of how that financial factor has shaped the research and lead the discussion throughout the 20th century.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC in return for an honest review. ...more

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