The Vaccine Race

The Vaccine Race

The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease
by Meredith Wadman

RA 644 .R8 W33 2017

“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 the disease itself. In June 1962, Leonard Hayflick, a young biologist in Philadelphia, produced clean, self-replicating cells in which vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases could safely be grown. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague Stanley Plotkin developed the actual vaccine that would one day wipe it out. The new cells, derived from a legally aborted fetus, led to vaccines that have saved millions of Americans, and billions of people around the world, from some of the deadliest diseases in history.

The Vaccine Race is the story of these major breakthroughs in cell biology and public health, and of their legacies today. Meredith Wadman nimbly explains the science of these achievements, but also describes the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She recounts the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles, and the testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events took 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 were coming to the laws governing who owns research cells and who can profit from biological inventions. It is also the story of those for whom the rubella vaccine arrived too late, and of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.

This is a masterful account of heroic possibilities and tragically missed opportunities at the intersection of science and politics. The new methods and new cells led to vaccines that have fought off polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles, and adenovirus. With frightening viruses constantly emerging – and reemerging – around the world, no medical story could have more human drama, impact, or urgency today than The Vaccine Race.”
– publisher description


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