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

Vaccine by Arthur Allen
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Mar 09, 2012

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bookshelves: 2011, 2012, health-issues, history, read-men-nonfiction, reviewed
Read from November 24, 2011 to January 02, 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 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.
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