Vaccine

“Vaccine” is the title of a book by Arthur Allen

It has languished far too long on my review pile, and recent events spurred me to read through it:

Vaccine
by Arthur Allen
W.W. Norton
ISBN-13: 978-0-393-05911-3 (hardback)
ISBN-13: 978-0-393-33156-1 (paperback)

A primarily historical account, it starts with the random experiments on smallpox inoculation, and then rapidly moves onto the account of Jenner’s discovery of cowpox vaccination.
The story recounts the ups-and-downs of vaccination against various major diseases, including both failures of science, industry and regulation; and the great triumphs, with the eradication of smallpox and near total pushback of several other major killer infectious diseases.
I found the account fascinating, I remember my own smallpox vaccination, the first attempt didn’t take and the second more aggressive inoculation caused a reaction which made me extremely sick for an extended period. But I am personally glad I was vaccinated and that smallpox is no longer a threat.

The later part of the book includes a lot of anecdotal history of recent anti-vaccination movements, and the similarities with their historic predecessors. It is fascinating reading and the author strives to balance the account, though his sympathy seems clearly to be for modern medicine and the need for vaccination.
Many of the vaccines came into use during and after my childhood and I was interested to read the historical account of their introduction and the arguments pro and con for use of different vaccines in different countries.
As a parent I appreciate the traume of taking a young child to be vaccinated, and the mild anxiety of waiting to see if there is a reaction beyond minor lethargy and ache. I also followed the debate over ethyl mercury as an additive, and while I accept the evidence suggesting the absence of harm, I am nevertheless also glad most vaccines no longer contain it.

This is a very good book, worth the read. The hardback edition has a few minor anachronisms and errors, which do not change the underlying story, though they were a little jarring in places. Hopefully they were caught and fixed in the paperback edition.
The book is loaded with endnotes and citations, which I did not check, but the author did a good job going over the history, from a US centered perspective.

Strongly recommended. Good topical reading, and quite readable.