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The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis
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The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  226 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Vaccines have saved more lives than any other single medical advance. Yet today only four companies make vaccines, and there is a growing crisis in vaccine availability. Why has this happened? This remarkable book recounts for the first time a devastating episode in 1955 at Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California, thathas led many pharmaceutical companies to abandon ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 28th 2007 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2005)
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Start your review of The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-books
This is an extremely informative and well-researched book. It's the first I've read from Paul Offit and I plan to read more. For a non-fiction piece, there was plenty of detail and dialogue to keep me interested. I was surprised how quickly I was able to finish - perhaps it's in part because the topic of vaccines is completely fascinating to me. I like that Mr. Offit explains not only the history of vaccines, but also brings up current events and lawsuits. He also issues several warnings about ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Paul Offit, MD, is a pediatrician and professor of infectious diseases, an expert on vaccines and the author of many books. In this particular book he relates an episode that occurred in the western US in 1955 when a vaccine for polio was first manufactured and administered, an episode that led to a legal climate that sent a chill over the pharmaceutical industry and has resulted in fewer and fewer companies being willing to be involved in vaccine development and production, the consequences of ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating history of the events surrounding the polio vaccination program in the 1950s, which resulted in the unfortunate use of some batches of vaccine that contained live polio virus. These tainted batches of vaccine passed all the specified safety tests known at the time and were manufactured according to the guidelines specified by the government.

In fact, the company that manufactured these tainted batches of vaccine, Cutter, was found not guilty of negligence. Despite this, due
Oct 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating glimpse into a world I knew nothing about: well-researched and lucidly told. I'll be dipping into this book frequently for insight and clues to help determine if the local Ontario doctor who inoculated my mother in 1937, after she was already feeling poorly, used a vaccine with live polio virus, leading to permanent paralysis of her legs and a spinal fusion, and her need for crutches, braces, and now a wheelchair. I am also grateful to the author for providing such a goldmine of ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting history of the polio vaccine development and the "Cutter incident" which has resulted in long-lasting effects on the regulation and development of vaccines. If only we could get some reasonable tort reform in this country :-(
Nov 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Richard by: Anybody interested in conflict of interest.
The first half of this book is an excellent, detailed account of the vaccine disaster that occurred with two of the companies that made Polio Vaccine at the height of the Polio vaccine development of the 50's. The author gives equal credit and blame to those involved in the incident and the follow-up investigation.
The end of the book was the lamest of attempts by a doctor to justify the poor behavior and performance of other doctors, researchers and government agencies. He makes an attempt to
Full of utterly fascinating -- and often horrifying -- history about the development of vaccines, specifically polio. Excellent popular history.

Of special interest to me was Offit's chapter 8 commentary about fear of lawsuits and how that has affected the vaccine industry (he makes an implicit case for tort reform too, whichis especially relevant in this era of healthcare debate). It was very interesting to read his angle -- a doctor's angle -- on the difference between "truth" for lawyers and
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting history on the development of the polio vaccine, and the failure of the early authorities to put into place effective guidelines for manufacture of potentially fatal medical products. In hindsight, it is obvious that the science was not adequate to ensure vaccine safety in the early stages of approval, evolving in response only to the morbidities and mortalities of early recipients. Latter chapters are particularly impressive as the legal system overtakes scientific ...more
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Offit has a knack for explaining complex medical issues in lay terms, and this book does an engaging job of following the development of the first polio vaccine and how it went badly awry, leading to our current system of vaccine regulation. He then goes on to explain how the fear of lawsuits limits development of new vaccines -- making one of the most balanced and apolitical arguments for tort reform I've seen.

Recommended for people with an interest in the history of vaccine development, and
Kim Wombles
Apr 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
For any of those anti-vaccine proponents who argue that Offit doesn't recognize the dangers that vaccination can pose, look no further than this book of his. Of course, if they'd been paying attention to what he says at almost every interview and in almost every book, they'd know that already.
George Avery
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding balanced look at a tragic error that occurred during the initial polio vaccination campaign, resulting in the infection of several hundred children with the polivirus. In tracing the history of the incident, Offit finds that the primary actor responsible was the US government, which distributed incorrect quality control instructions with the contracts for vaccine production. The results of this tragedy helped fuel anti-vaccination sentiment, probably resulting in more ...more
E. Kahn
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
The first three quarters of the book are a readable (if not particularly compelling) account of a very interesting incident, unfortunately peppered through with attacks on the character of Dr. Albert Sabin. I can only speculate the author was forced to watch as Dr. Sabin raped and murdered his family and was then dosed with some memory-loss drug that left only overwhelming hatred and resentment for the doctor.

The final quarter of the book is the author soapboxing about the tort system with some
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read about how the polio vaccine came about, the politics behind it and how a huge screw up left with the first manufactured polio vaccine GAVE people polio instead.

The book does a fabulous job explaining how this incident became the springboard for all the legal settlements against pharmacy companies and how that in turn has drastically limited vaccine production and research. Its a great read!
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very well-written and extremely interesting.
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love Dr. Offit. Even though a well known proponent of vaccination, he doesn't shy away from discussing the history of vaccinology, including some of the early mishaps. Surprising? No. He's smart enough to know that a full accounting helps us further our trust in medicine.

Dr. Offit also uses "the Cutter incident" to delve into how abuses in tort law and lack of scientific understanding by courts (judges, juries) lead to erroneous judgements which have ultimately led to a crisis in vaccine
Sonya S
Dec 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of Paul Offit's work, and this book didn't disappoint. As usual, he weaves science, public opinion, and law together in an comprehensive, understandable tale to better understand the industry of vaccination (and the public fear of vaccines) today. I found that the book was very good at breaking down fairly complex science into things understandable by the average layperson: you don't need several years of biology classes to understand the hows and whys of the polio vaccine as Dr. ...more
Camille Tesch
Jun 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a great book. It was fascinating reading, and I learned so much about vaccines that I didn't know. I'd never heard about the Cutter incident before this book, and it is fascinating and disturbing to see how the court cases that resulted from people getting polio from the polio vaccine made by Cutter led to the legal environment that exists today. In many ways, because of the legal environment there are several vaccines that aren't being produced because the legal costs make many ...more
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is the third book by this author I have read. I really liked his other two, "Autism's False Prophets" and "Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine," which I had a hard time putting down. This one was a bit dryer than the other two and I had a harder time getting through it. I didn't know that the polio vaccine had been so controversial and that there had been so many problems with it. It doesn't help those who caught polio from the vaccine, but at least the ...more
Oct 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: stanford
Really interesting account of the polio vaccination program. It got a little dry at certain points, but I appreciated the scientific thoroughness of the book. It was a little hard to follow at certain points--Offit is a doctor first and a writer second--but overall I was glad to learn about one of the first large-scale vaccinations in the U.S. and some of the devastating problems that accompanied it.
Swathi Sb
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed the Detailed account of the incident from a neutral stand giving us the opportunity to think what went wrong. It's a great read to know what it takes for a vaccine to get in to the market and the various problems with manufacturing, and monitoring them. Gives an idea how laws can completely get counterproductive.
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
This is probably something I would have shied away from if I didn't already know the author's views and agree with them.

I don't think I'm going to finish this - this first good sized chunk is all about the polio vaccine in general and I'm having too much trouble melding it with the other polio books I've read to get past it and on to the Cutter incident itself.
A fascinating history of the polio vaccine and problems that lead to fears around vaccines in general. The last chapter on more recent vaccine issues makes me want to read more about the current state of vaccines. The book also makes a compelling argument about the problems of having public health policy run more by lawyers and issues of money than by scientists and what is found in research.
Vincent Racaniello
Terrific description of the first vaccine failure that lead to the anti-vax movement in the US. Includes a host of other incidents which occurred before the FDA was established, and will make today's drugs and vaccines look like water.
Jan 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
a fascinating look at a medical tragedy and more importantly at the origin of "tort law" and the enormously negative impact that lawyers running amok and a public unwilling to do its homework has had on public health. Read it & weep, then get mad, thendo something!
May 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: clinical-science
"A biopsy of Yolanda's muscles showed that she had trichinosis, a disease caused by eating meat infested with the larvae of a pork tapeworm" Pg. 157.

Trichinella spiralis is a nematode, not a cestode.
Jan 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Fascinating book, especially the chapter about how litigation subsequent to this incident in the 1950s changed the way vaccines are developed and sold -- or if they are even developed at all.
Feb 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Interesting history, especially since I have a background in medicine. A bit dry and slow at times.
Mar 16, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
so far, a tremendously interesting book on vaccinations and the trouble with rushing products to the public before they're ready from a scientist standpoint.
Meggan Newland
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Medical history on the polio vaccine. Unreal and the beginning of medical liability. Interesting in light of the current vaccines and involved pharma companies.
Apr 14, 2008 marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction
Recommended by B. Frazier.
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Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit is also the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is a recipient of many awards including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence ...more

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