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The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis Hardcover – October 10, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After a wave of books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, Offit's troubling account is the first to focus on a largely forgotten aspect—one with negative repercussions 50 years later. In a nuanced examination of a complex story, Offit, a professor of pediatrics and expert in infectious diseases, relates how Cutter Laboratories, one of several pharmaceutical companies licensed to produce Salk's killed-virus vaccine, shipped many lots of vaccine containing live virus, creating a mini polio epidemic: 40,000 children became ill, 200 were permanently paralyzed, 10 died. Offit carefully examines how Cutter was and was not responsible: tests for detecting live virus at the time were simply not sensitive enough, but Cutter departed from Salk's safe production protocols. And while the company knew there was a problem, it failed to notify the government's oversight agency. Cutter faced costly lawsuits that have resulted, according to Offit, in today's vaccine crisis: shortages (think of last year's flu vaccine) due to pharmaceutical companies' unwillingness to risk testing and producing vaccines and face possible litigation. In another example of the law of unintended consequences, Offit shows how "the Cutter Incident" led Salk's vaccine to be replaced by a less safe one: Sabin's live-virus vaccine. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Pointing to recent shortages of flu and several childhood-disease vaccines as well as the dearth of new vaccines, Offit says that pharmaceutical companies are staying away from vaccine research and production in droves. He lays responsibility for this lamentable situation on the outcome of a court battle now 50 years old and the subsequent snowballing of legal and legislative reactions. Beginning with a tragic 1955 error at Cutter Laboratories--one of the first companies producing the Salk polio vaccine--that caused polio in thousands, Offit maps the way the courts have handled pharmaceutical liability, the way juries have awarded damages, the federal Vaccines for Children Program and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and other influences on vaccine development. Those trends and agencies have so inflated the costs and risks relative to probable profits that vaccine production has been discouraged. Offit concludes that, because the U.S. has made risks high and profits negligible, many more children will suffer illnesses that can be prevented. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (October 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300108648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300108644
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Carleen Lane on January 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dr. Offit has excellent books. If you are old enough to remember the abject fear during the polio epidemics, this is the book for you. We have not had a disease attacking people by such large numbers for a long time. It was a race against time and that is why the Cutter Incident happened. Too many people stirring the pot to get a vaccine in a hurry.
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I had to read this book for an assignment. I enjoyed most of it but the author went to so many details that I got tired of reading it for a little while. but he does a great job retelling everything that happened
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This is a level-headed account of casualties that occurred in the 1950s as scientists waged war on polio--a disease that is close to becoming extinct. And I think that's the way to remember those needless tragedies, as casualties in a war. Dr. Offit skillfully writes from all points of view, on a level with Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Despite the cost in human suffering, I came away with renewed admiration for all those involved--in both the public and private sectors. I grew up in a church that latched onto this episode and used it to promote its anti-medical science/faith healing doctrines. While spreading fear of medical science, it utterly failed to realize the vast numbers of lives that were spared this disease because of the vaccination. Dr. Offit's book tells the whole story.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1952, the United States suffered its worst ever polio epidemic, with 58,000 people affected. The race was on to perfect a vaccine that would bring this scourge under control. In 1955, following several breakthrough, a vaccine was created, and a huge trial was conducted, involving some 800,000 children, of whom 600,000 were given the vaccine (the rest were given a placebo). However, it quickly became apparent that something had gone wrong. Before all was said and done, 40,000 children contracted polio, 200 were permanently paralyzed, and 10 died. The race was on to find out what had gone wrong.

1955 was still the dawn of the vaccine era, and there was much to be learned. However, in the aftermath of the vaccine, liability law was changed in a way that seemed minor at the time, but has resulted in a dearth of vaccines and vaccine makers. Do you want to know why 2004 witnessed a shortage of flu vaccines? Read this book and find out!

Overall, I must say that I found this book to be quite fascinating. The author does a good job of retelling what happened, and what its ramifications were and are. It seems quite ironic that something that went wrong at the dawn of vaccines is bringing the era of vaccines to a close! If you want to know how we got from that seemingly glorious era of ever new vaccines, which seemed to promise a disease free future, to day, then you must read this book. I highly recommend it!
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By gretchen n on February 17, 2016
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Both an overview and an indepth view of the Cutter incident and how it changed America. This was very interesting both as an informed citizen, a scientists and a teacher. I enjoyed the writing style as well as how the information was presented.

The information is accessible and understandable for anyone who is interested to learn.
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Format: Paperback
I'm a computational biology PhD student, and I've always been particularly interested in infectious diseases and pharmacology. I picked up this book because it was recommended by the professor of my senior-year virology class in college. It was an absolutely mesmerizing read, describing the beginnings of polio, how the vaccine was created, and the implications of the fallout surrounding the Cutter Incident, which caused the deaths of numerous children across the US.

Most significantly, this is an excellent book both for biologists with a strong background in microbiology, etc, and for laypeople. I gave this book to my mother, a civil engineer by training who hasn't studied biology since high school, and she enjoyed it greatly as well.

I strongly recommend this to anyone interested in biology, public health, epidemiology, and science literacy, as well as for scientists looking for gifts for their non-scientist loved ones.
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Not surprised why there are a limited of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines. Starting reading this book after the NECC tragedy. Maybe compounding regulations are too lenient. Great book, definitely recommend.
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Dr. Offit brings the key individuals and events involved in the "Cutter Incident" to life for the reader in the context of the time in which these events occurred. This book provides an essential insight into a major part of the historical basis of the current FDA regulations and policies for assessing vaccine safety and risk issues as well as legal issues emerging from adverse events associated with the first polio vaccine.
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