Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver Info

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"A timely, fair-minded and crisply written
account."―New York Times Book
Review

Vaccine 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.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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3.54

277 Ratings

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Reviews for Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver:

3

Nov 29, 2009

This book was at different times: boring, informative, interesting and confusing. Certain chapters focused on science, others on public health & science policy, and others on the drawbacks of the ease of communication made by the internet.

Ultimately I didn't feel that Allen was presenting a completely objective perspective, but this may be fair considering the statistics he presents do reveal that vaccinations are ultimately effective and have increased the safety of the population - though This book was at different times: boring, informative, interesting and confusing. Certain chapters focused on science, others on public health & science policy, and others on the drawbacks of the ease of communication made by the internet.

Ultimately I didn't feel that Allen was presenting a completely objective perspective, but this may be fair considering the statistics he presents do reveal that vaccinations are ultimately effective and have increased the safety of the population - though there are still risks involved.

I watched Food Inc. a few weeks ago and was rather compelled as the mother of a son who died from e. coli poisoning lamented how the food industry never apologized or even acknowledged their fault. I can easily imagine how the diptheria vdo that was released, or if one were to be released by Jenny McCarthy or other parents of autistic children could be just as convincing. However, as Allen described, 13 parents with similar experiences barely qualify as a statistic out of the millions who get vaccinated every year. ...more
4

Feb 14, 2010

I deliberately started my vaccine research with this book - this is a history of vaccines from the times of Jenner and variolation to George Bush being vaccinated for now non-existent smallpox on TV to demonstrate his belief in the threat of bio-terrorism. I expected for this book to be as neutral as possible for a text on a controversial subject. As a parent to be, I am trying to go into the issue with an open mind - it is after all about the safety of my child, not which political group I I deliberately started my vaccine research with this book - this is a history of vaccines from the times of Jenner and variolation to George Bush being vaccinated for now non-existent smallpox on TV to demonstrate his belief in the threat of bio-terrorism. I expected for this book to be as neutral as possible for a text on a controversial subject. As a parent to be, I am trying to go into the issue with an open mind - it is after all about the safety of my child, not which political group I happen to identify with the most. On this particular criterion of neutrality, however, Allen does not quite measure up. For instance, after describing numerous confirmed cases of vaccine injuries, he would still refer to vaccines as "completely safe" or "entirely safe" without providing any justification for his logic. As a reasonable human being, I understand that both diseases and vaccines come with risks. What scares me is the denial or belittling of risks which leaves me in no position to compare them intelligently.

Another quite annoying aspect is Allen's description of those people who don't vaccinate. He admits it that in some communities people who don't vaccinate are mostly PhD's, quite successful and well-off, but he mentions it in passing. However, an entire chapter is devoted to describing wackos in sects and with no understanding or respect for science as an example of the people "who prefer the whooping cough". That is offensive, as many people I personally know who choose to not vaccinate or vaccinate selectively (which is the option that I am leaning towards) are very reasonable people who did their homework.

This is a thoroughly researched text, however, and it serves its purpose. Definitely a good starting point for those parents who want to know everything there is to know about vaccinations to make the right decision. ...more
1

Jul 21, 2011

Gah! I don't give a toss about how this or that researcher look like or how he's driven his wife mad to the point that she's comitted suicide!
Neither do I care much about the vaccines developers'politics if it has nothing to do with the outcome of the vaccine's safety/ efficacy.
I want to read about how the vaccines are developped, what were the pitfalls & side effets, how they were tested & whether or not I can trust the ones that are used now. Internationally. Not just in the USofA.
I Gah! I don't give a toss about how this or that researcher look like or how he's driven his wife mad to the point that she's comitted suicide!
Neither do I care much about the vaccines developers'politics if it has nothing to do with the outcome of the vaccine's safety/ efficacy.
I want to read about how the vaccines are developped, what were the pitfalls & side effets, how they were tested & whether or not I can trust the ones that are used now. Internationally. Not just in the USofA.
I still have about a quarter of the book to go. It has been such a hard work so far.
Waaay too much faff & unnecessary details about how this and that researcher look like, all the details that are too distracting and to be frank are just plain annoying! Grrr! ...more
3

Mar 09, 2012

When I finished Vaccine, it seemed like I’d been reading it for months. In fact, I had been-this book took me forever and a day to finish and if it weren’t my intense fascination with the subject material, I don’t know if I would have made it through. That’s not necessarily a dig at the book, but many parts of it were definitely more exhaustive than I was looking for at the moment. It’s apparent that Arthur Allen spent a great amount of time and effort writing this book and although it’s more of When I finished Vaccine, it seemed like I’d been reading it for months. In fact, I had been-this book took me forever and a day to finish and if it weren’t my intense fascination with the subject material, I don’t know if I would have made it through. That’s not necessarily a dig at the book, but many parts of it were definitely more exhaustive than I was looking for at the moment. It’s apparent that Arthur Allen spent a great amount of time and effort writing this book and although it’s more of a popular narrative history, it’s also much more in-depth and occasionally dry than many other history books intended for a general audience.

I think what I appreciated most about this book was how clearly it illustrated that the arguments for and against vaccination haven’t changed that much since the debate began with cow pox vaccination. The logic against vaccines (polluting the blood, not as good as “natural immunity” etc.) are arguments I see over and over again at the anti-vaccine sites on facebook, mostly declared without much background knowledge of how these arguments were developed and used through time. I also appreciated Allen’s coverage of how many pro-vaccine advocates were more than willing to overlook possible negative reactions attributed to their vaccines and I feel that this part of the story needs to be told as well. If those who speak up for vaccines' safety and importance seek to counteract the anti-vaccine crowd's accusations, we must have an accurate understanding of where pro-vaccine scientists and policy-makers have messed up in the past.(That said, I feel completely confident that the current system of vaccine regulation in the United States may not be perfect but it protects citizens-I don’t believe there are hidden legions of “vaccine injured” children suffering in silence.)

I also liked Allen’s detailed accounting of the vaccine industry in America. One of the most common arguments I see is that vaccines are a Big Pharma cash cow but it’s obvious that pharmaceutical companies are by and large not profiting from developing and producing immunizations. I was often bored and overwhelmed by the hundreds of people Allen talks about as I’m not that interested in who developed which vaccine but on the flipside, I did appreciate his exhaustive research about individuals because I was very intrigued by what seemed like rather high numbers of women working to develop vaccines, particularly in the twentieth century. I wonder if vaccinology had more women in its ranks because vaccines are primarily developed for and given to children, who are often seen as part of women’s realm.

Vaccine isn’t a page turner but it is an interesting and worthwhile read for anyone looking to gain a broad understanding of immunization’s history, both how the vaccines themselves were developed as well as the minority reactions to the practice of immunization through time.
...more
2

May 18, 2008

I was told to read this book by a professor whose current research is focused around creating a vaccine against tropical helminth disease. I'm preparing to join her research team in the fall so she wanted me to read this book in order to get an introduction on the history and controversies surrounding vaccines. While this book is probably a brief summary of the history of vaccines, I found it a little tedious to get through. The author did a great job explaining certain controversies but I feel I was told to read this book by a professor whose current research is focused around creating a vaccine against tropical helminth disease. I'm preparing to join her research team in the fall so she wanted me to read this book in order to get an introduction on the history and controversies surrounding vaccines. While this book is probably a brief summary of the history of vaccines, I found it a little tedious to get through. The author did a great job explaining certain controversies but I feel as though it went a little too far in depth about vaccine legislation is some places. However, I did learn a lot and found the majority of the book to be interesting! ...more
3

Jun 25, 2008

An intriguing history of the controversy over vaccines--from smallpox to modern day. A fast read for non-fiction, but I would still recommend going straight the chapters on modern day controversies over the benefits vs. the risks of vaccination, the speculation about autism and vaccination, and the most recent attempts to mass vaccinate the US.


3

Feb 27, 2008

Great insight into the pros/cons of public health requirements on the community
3

Aug 22, 2008

definitely read if you are a science nerd or are interested in some of the history behind vaccinations
0

Dec 07, 2008

The history of vaccination in the the western world has displayed the driving force in medical advancements as mans' fight against disease and at times the not so noble intentions that back it.
5

May 13, 2014

This was an excellent book for presenting the long history of vaccine development and controversy. It is probably the most comprehensive book I've read on the subject, covering everything from the mishaps with early polio vaccines to the internal politics of vaccine development. It serves as the background for Seth Mnookins book "The Panic Virus" which picks up where Arthur Allen left off. I definitely recommend Mnookin's book as a follow-up, although the first few chapters seem to come straight This was an excellent book for presenting the long history of vaccine development and controversy. It is probably the most comprehensive book I've read on the subject, covering everything from the mishaps with early polio vaccines to the internal politics of vaccine development. It serves as the background for Seth Mnookins book "The Panic Virus" which picks up where Arthur Allen left off. I definitely recommend Mnookin's book as a follow-up, although the first few chapters seem to come straight from Arthur Miller's book. ...more
4

May 05, 2017

Very good overview of vaccines from their origins to today. A book that needed to be written.
4

Feb 29, 2016

Walking past the book shelf that we have in our office, I stumbled upon a book that seemed kind of dull at first due to the blank cover and large thickness it showed. Who would have known I was in for a surprise? The book Vaccine is really well written by Arthur Allen and he describes the pros and cons of vaccines in a perspective which is far greater than what I had settled for previously. Allen does this in such a way that properly convinces the reader to ultimately choose between the risk of Walking past the book shelf that we have in our office, I stumbled upon a book that seemed kind of dull at first due to the blank cover and large thickness it showed. Who would have known I was in for a surprise? The book Vaccine is really well written by Arthur Allen and he describes the pros and cons of vaccines in a perspective which is far greater than what I had settled for previously. Allen does this in such a way that properly convinces the reader to ultimately choose between the risk of receiving a vaccine, and it compares it with the benefits of being vaccinated.
Ultimately, he is able to underline the importance in the benefits of being vaccinated and then places statistics to support his arguments that vaccines are important medical advancements that have allowed the human immune system to synthesize pieces of a bacteria and create a natural resistance to it. Allen outlines multiple times throughout his book that the benefits of vaccines in the modern age have allowed humanity itself to persevere through many deadly outbreaks as well as increase the amount of time that we live.
There are 2 well developed reasons as to why this book is extremely well written. First, it is a non-fictional book that relates to many people’s concerns and it informs the reader of the risks as well as the benefits of vaccines. The second is that this issue is really important. As vaccines are being developed, there might always be the risk of a human error. 1 incorrect proportion and another human will pay for the mistake. Ultimately, this book is life changing and it has definitely changed my opinion on vaccination. ...more
3

Feb 03, 2015

If you want to read a 400-page New Yorker article, this is the book. It was fascinating and mind numbing due to the sheer amount of information. I learned things such as more WWI soldiers died from preventable infections than the war itself. George Bush was instrumental in not only the war on terror and fear mongering, but at the same time the possibility of bio-terrorism. If he got all the vaccines in 2002 that Saddam did not use against us, why didn't the rest of America's citizens get the If you want to read a 400-page New Yorker article, this is the book. It was fascinating and mind numbing due to the sheer amount of information. I learned things such as more WWI soldiers died from preventable infections than the war itself. George Bush was instrumental in not only the war on terror and fear mongering, but at the same time the possibility of bio-terrorism. If he got all the vaccines in 2002 that Saddam did not use against us, why didn't the rest of America's citizens get the same vaccines?

The political, religious and scientific struggles remain the same to this day. I was sad to read measles had been eradicated by 1998 but is now back in this the year 2015. The parents of autistic children have a right to be upset, but to blame vaccines is very strange after reading this book. The same vaccines given to children in Denmark have not resulted in the number of autistic children in America. The cause is not known. The parents marching and suing is not helping the advancement of finding a scientific reason for autism.

FDR has always been a hero to me but his fight to find a vaccine for polio made me more proud than ever. The greater good was always his political position. What did I learn overall? History repeats itself. Now in 2015 the hysteria has started all over again. I am glad I live in these modern times. I did not get polio. I do have MS, but it is not due to any vaccine as the disease has been documented since the 1300s.

I rated it with three stars only because it was just too much all packed into one book. ...more
4

Sep 05, 2015

I had to read this for a course I'm teaching on bioethics and epidemics. It's a good book and an interesting story, but it could have been more. At times, there's more attention to the what happened when than to what the events meant, and to how they fit together. His best section is his portrait of Neal Halsey, debating what to do about thimerosal in vaccines - a crisis in what should have been an issue that could have been resolved more slowly. Nevertheless, it's a book that's still worthwhile I had to read this for a course I'm teaching on bioethics and epidemics. It's a good book and an interesting story, but it could have been more. At times, there's more attention to the what happened when than to what the events meant, and to how they fit together. His best section is his portrait of Neal Halsey, debating what to do about thimerosal in vaccines - a crisis in what should have been an issue that could have been resolved more slowly. Nevertheless, it's a book that's still worthwhile for those interested in vaccination and the public policy side of making people accept an immunization they don't want. It strives to be balanced, which may mean it leans a little too far to being polite about people willing to accept wild theories as science. He presents the theories and lets you judge. When people claim mercury is the reason vaccines cause autism, and then cite a series of vaccines their child received, none of which had any mercury, the point of the storytelling is still pretty clear. Recommended if the topic interests you; not a necessary book otherwise. ...more
4

Sep 11, 2014

Immunization like all other medical practices has evolved over the past two centuries based upon the works of many of the pioneers like Pasteur,Jenner and others .These practices evolved mainly as a result of many bold trial and error methods.These methods when compared to present day practices were rather crude and certainly far from immunization standards of today.This book is certainly helpful for all those who think that immunization like all other medical practices has to be followed Immunization like all other medical practices has evolved over the past two centuries based upon the works of many of the pioneers like Pasteur,Jenner and others .These practices evolved mainly as a result of many bold trial and error methods.These methods when compared to present day practices were rather crude and certainly far from immunization standards of today.This book is certainly helpful for all those who think that immunization like all other medical practices has to be followed blindly.After reading this book i as a medico have started to think the utility of some vaccines and their dose schedules (eg ,hepatitis 0 dose) . ...more
5

Jan 14, 2012

Highly intriguing read! From the initial work of Jenner and variolation to the contemporary (unfounded) controversy surrounding autism, Allen takes an honest look at the History of Vaccination.

He looks at the personal stories behind some of the pillars of vaccination thereby illuminating some of the darker sides behind this particular scientific enterprise. It might seem a bit lengthy and detailed in its narrative on occasions, but is nevertheless a fantastic read.

If you stick at it, you will Highly intriguing read! From the initial work of Jenner and variolation to the contemporary (unfounded) controversy surrounding autism, Allen takes an honest look at the History of Vaccination.

He looks at the personal stories behind some of the pillars of vaccination thereby illuminating some of the darker sides behind this particular scientific enterprise. It might seem a bit lengthy and detailed in its narrative on occasions, but is nevertheless a fantastic read.

If you stick at it, you will have a better overall understanding of the Vaccine field. ...more
4

Feb 20, 2011

This book provides a great history of vaccine from its inception. You'll not find this book impartial, but I would call it informative. Unlike many books about vaccination, I appreciated that this author cites references throughout each chapter!!! IT was a pleasure to be able to look up the information that he used in his book.

The book is not made to be a reference book, but instead tells the story of vaccination. Everything from its dirty history to how the minds of those who practiced medicine This book provides a great history of vaccine from its inception. You'll not find this book impartial, but I would call it informative. Unlike many books about vaccination, I appreciated that this author cites references throughout each chapter!!! IT was a pleasure to be able to look up the information that he used in his book.

The book is not made to be a reference book, but instead tells the story of vaccination. Everything from its dirty history to how the minds of those who practiced medicine have changed.

I couldn't say it any better than to say that this book was fun. ...more
5

Nov 15, 2012

A very informative and honest book about the history of vaccine development, the impact vaccines had on modern medicine & life expectancies, and a look at the current controversies. I can also say it was inspiring: after reading the chapter "People Who Prefer Whooping Cough", I was inspired to get my overdue tetanus & diptheria vaccination & made sure I got the version that also included pertussis (TDaP). Good timing to, seeing as how this year saw a huge spike in the number of A very informative and honest book about the history of vaccine development, the impact vaccines had on modern medicine & life expectancies, and a look at the current controversies. I can also say it was inspiring: after reading the chapter "People Who Prefer Whooping Cough", I was inspired to get my overdue tetanus & diptheria vaccination & made sure I got the version that also included pertussis (TDaP). Good timing to, seeing as how this year saw a huge spike in the number of pertussis/whooping cough cases... ...more
0

Feb 03, 2011

Vaccine is a well-researched history of both sides of the vaccine wars, where proponents are motivated by fear of disease, and the opponents by fear of the vaccines themselves. Beginning with 18th century work on smallpox vaccines by Cotton Mather and Edward Jenner, it chronicles the 20th century successes with vaccines for polio and other diseases, and concludes with some discussion of the current debate about vaccines.
4

Feb 02, 2010

Covers this complex topic thoroughly and quite objectively. Not a fast read but the slower sections give the scientific and policy history so that current issues can be understood. A more balanced journalistic approach that is a good comapanion to more inflammatory treatments from all sides of the public health debate.
4

Feb 22, 2009

Great overview of how vaccines came to be. Did you know, for instance, that the word vaccine comes from the Latin vacca, because the first vaccine came from scraping cowpox virus off of cow udders and then using the pus to innoculate people against smallpox? If you want to know more fascinating and disgusting facts to use at cocktail parties, this is the book for you.
0

Sep 24, 2008

This is an interesting book about what I consider to be one of our great modern miracles, but I just don't have time for an in-depth nonfiction book right now. I learned of this book through reading an article by the author in a recent issue of Mother Jones.
5

Jan 28, 2010

I really enjoyed this book. Fanstastic balance of history, research, and willingness to identify gray areas of science. This is informative and lacks the conspiracy theories that domniate this topic in the media.
4

Aug 30, 2011

I'll say straight up that his position (pro vaccine) is clear and that with me he's preaching to the choir.
Regardless, even if you are anti-vaccine, you can't fault the quality of his research and prose. Really really interesting stuff!
3

Feb 07, 2015

This book depicts the complex history of Vaccines in the USA. It is an objective and neutral, a great source of reliable information. I recommend it to anyone curious about vaccines and their history.

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