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Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 0393059111
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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Pulling together years of accumulated research on a topic he has written about for several national publications, Allen recounts the 200-year history of vaccination, from its first employment to combat smallpox, "the first and only contagious disease ever eradicated" by a vaccine, to the present, in which decades of unanswered questions plus low profit margins for vaccine development threaten its future. Allen undertakes a ponderous mission indeed because there has been so much controversy, most recently regarding an alleged link between autism and a vaccine, and disagreement over the efficacy of various vaccines. A 2005 study found little difference in fatality rates between elderly flu shot recipients and those who didn't get the shots, and then there's the whole discussion about how much social responsibility the individual must bear when getting a vaccination that puts the recipient at risk of unwanted side effects but also helps protect the community from an epidemic. Thorny issues all, which Allen deftly maneuvers as he wrangles myriad aspects of a very complicated issue into a comprehensible text. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; 1 edition (January 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393059111
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,738,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Vaccine" is a timely and pertinent book that does an outstanding job of analyzing the many controversies that have plagued (pun intended) vaccines since their beginning. Always a hotbed of controversy, the debate surrounding vaccines has arisen again as a new generation of parents questions the politics and implications behind the HPV vaccine for girls.

This book should be a must-read for parents before they decide NOT to inoculate their children. The book notes there are pockets within communities of highly educated (and very, shall we say, freethinking) parents who don't vaccinate their kids. The chapter titled "People Who Prefer Whooping Cough" tells the intriguing story of a Waldorf School (this one in Boulder, Co.) which maintains that children should become very ill in order to develop into spiritually whole human beings. Public health officials have been tracing many whooping cough outbreaks to this school in Boulder, and cases were showing up more and more in nearby cities like Golden, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins.

Also of interest is the chapter that examines vaccines and whether there is a link to the recent `epidemic' of autism. This book can be a valuable resource for families looking for a comprehensive history of the issue.

Arthur Allen has exhaustively researched and dissected his subject matter, as his 50 pages of footnotes show. His narrative, conversational tone and his skill at weaving the pieces of the story together help make this a highly readable, informative book despite its inherent complexities.
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Format: Hardcover
I will state my bias upfront: prior to reading this book, I thought vaccines were a great preventative health tool. However, I also wanted more information from both sides of the debate.

I picked this book up because I wanted an opinion that was neither from the medical nor the anti-vaccine establishments... And I was not disappointed. Allen writes a balanced, interesting, easy-to-read examination of vaccines from their conception to now, with many of the successes AND failures along the way.

What I appreciated most about the book is that unlike much of the vaccine "information" you will find on the internet, when he claims a point, he backs it up with the reference (52 pages of them in fact) in case you doubt it. He is thorough in his investigation and gives equal "airtime" to both sides of the issue. His conclusions are transparent and well justified.

As mentioned in other reviews, the book is split into historical and more current chapters. After reading the first historical chapter, I skipped to the last one and ended up reading the book backwards. I don't think I lost anything that way. So feel free to pick and choose from the chapters as your interests change.

Balanced, reliable information on vaccines that I think any parent with questions should review... He debunks a lot of myths with great credibility. I learned a lot.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this book for its historical perspective as well as for the few chapters of investigative journalism done during recent whooping cough outbreaks. I think Allen portrayed anti-vaccinating parents somewhat unfairly during the whooping cough epidemic, but perhaps his account was accurate based on what he experienced. More interesting was the history and the arguments for/against vaccines that have been brought up over the past 2+ centuries since variolation was in practice to protect against smallpox. A lot of the arguments from the early days have persisted, and he fairly points out, with skepticism, how some concerns just don't make much sense. One thing I was pleased with is that, even though this book seeems to come out in favor of vaccines overall, he didn't shy away from some of the serious issues with vaccines: such as SV40 in polio vaccine in the 60's which was found to cause tumors, and Hepatitis B being introduced during the course of vaccination because of the use of human blood serum and the routine re-use of needles for vaccinating in low-resource areas. A great book for anyone who wants a fair look at vaccine history. The only con is that it could get a bit dry during long discussions of the process of creating some vaccines and the politics involved.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a highly readeable and intriguing look at an important subject. Mr. Allen writes well and gives us insights into the thought process of the anti-vax movement. He also walks the reader through the long and facinating history of the development of vaccines. A must for any parent or interested onlooker curious about this subject.

Other good books out there can also help readers understand this issue including the following one that Mr. Allen praised:

Your Baby's Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives
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Format: Hardcover
A very good history of the vaccine discovery, implementation and political ramifications within religious groups once problems stemmed from discovered wrongdoing. the chapter on autism is the best.
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Format: Hardcover

"In telling the story of vaccination, this book makes an assessment that is as fair as I can make it, based on the available evidence. I [the author] am neither a scientist nor someone with personal experience of a severe vaccine reaction [vaccines carry some measure of risk to the patient]...This book deals with preventive vaccines [that produce an artificial immunity] against infectious diseases [smallpox, polio, measles, whooping cough, etc.)...a vaccine's success as a public health measure relies on three legs of support: (1) the public, which must be confident of the safety and worth of the procedure; (2) manufactures, who seek to generate profits by making vaccines; and (3) government and public-health [workers] who...[help] further population-wide health goals. As [the reader] will see throughout this book, none of these legs is entirely stable."

The above is found in the introduction of this well-researched, easy-to-read book by writer Arthur Allen. Be aware that the author also says in the introduction the following: "I do...bring personal agendas to this book." The book itself is divided into three parts.

In the first two parts, Allen describes the history of the development of vaccines in a time when there were no clinical ethics boards or informed consent laws, the defeat of such infectious diseases as smallpox & polio, and public resistance to widespread vaccination. There's a lot here to disturb both proponents and opponents of mandatory vaccination.

The author devotes the third and last part of his book to the vaccine controversies of the last few decades. I found that this relatively brief analysis was not well connected to the first two parts.
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