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A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines

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Longlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

The authoritative account of the race to produce the vaccines that are saving us all, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Man Who Solved the Market

Few were ready when a mysterious respiratory illness emerged in Wuhan, China in January 2020. Politicians, government officials, business leaders, and public-health professionals were unprepared for the most devastating pandemic in a century. Many of the world’s biggest drug and vaccine makers were slow to react or couldn’t muster an effective response.

It was up to a small group of unlikely and untested scientists and executives to save civilization. A French businessman dismissed by many as a fabulist. A Turkish immigrant with little virus experience. A quirky Midwesterner obsessed with insect cells. A Boston scientist employing questionable techniques. A British scientist despised by his peers. Far from the limelight, each had spent years developing innovative vaccine approaches. Their work was met with skepticism and scorn. By 2020, these individuals had little proof of progress. Yet they and their colleagues wanted to be the ones to stop the virus holding the world hostage. They scrambled to turn their life’s work into life-saving vaccines in a matter of months, each gunning to make the big breakthrough—and to beat each other for the glory that a vaccine guaranteed.

A #1 New York Times bestselling author and award-winning Wall Street Journal investigative journalist, Zuckerman takes us inside the top-secret laboratories, corporate clashes, and high-stakes government negotiations that led to effective shots. Deeply reported and endlessly gripping, this is a dazzling, blow-by-blow chronicle of the most consequential scientific breakthrough of our time. It’s a story of courage, genius, and heroism. It’s also a tale of heated rivalries, unbridled ambitions, crippling insecurities, and unexpected drama. A Shot to Save the World is the story of how science saved the world.


First published October 26, 2021

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About the author

Gregory Zuckerman

8 books327 followers
Gregory Zuckerman is a Special Writer at The Wall Street Journal, a 25-year veteran of the paper and a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb award -- the highest honor in business journalism.

Greg is the author of six books: A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine; The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution; The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters; The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History; Rising Above: How 11 Athletes Overcame Challenges in Their Youth to Become Stars and Rising Above: Inspiring Women in Sports.

Greg lives with his wife and two sons in West Orange, N.J., where they enjoy the Yankees in the summer, root for the Giants in the fall, and reminisce about Linsanity in the winter.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Boy Blue.
463 reviews72 followers
March 21, 2023
This is the latest in a particular type of narrative non-fiction possibly invented by Malcolm Gladwell and most recently taken to extremes by Johann Hari, that I'm starting to find quite tiresome.

Key features of this style of writing include.

1. Reductionism: Everything is reduced to the most simple version possible. Lather up and give your story the closest shave with Ockham's razor. If you don't think the reader will understand or believe it, chuck it out.

2. People as Zany Characters: Every single person in the narrative is introduced with a brief caricature of their physical appearance and then a couple of stories from their early lives that paint them as a whacky eccentric.

3. Incredulity: Whether it's from the characters or from the writer. Every discovery is always a shock, it's always explosive and people are always staggering around trying to push pieces of their brain back through their ear holes.

4. Conformism = Bad: Everyone who is a "good" character has to be unconventional. The writer will do everything to make it so.

5. Big Man in History: There is zero understanding of team work and the size of teams that make discoveries, or the sedimentary layers of research that go into the breakthroughs. There's always one person (usually a guy) who is working 37 hours a day, until they suddenly get a passing quip from a non-genius type person that sets them off into the discovery of a lifetime.

As for this particular book.

There's some interesting information but my god does it take the longest run up I've ever seen. In Australia we'd say it was off the back fence. Excluding the prologue and introduction, it's not until about three quarters in that you come across Covid-19. That's some serious backstory. So then you finally do reach the section on Covid-19 and it's over in a flash, leaving you with so many unanswered questions and a new appreciation of the word bathetic.

Another thing that I really struggled with was how this was clearly a Wall Street take. It was all about financial gain and particularly American gain. Zuckerman insisted on creating a race and once he'd built that construct everyone in the book had to conform to it. Zuckerman seems to expect his audience to be constantly saying "show me the money", and so he delivers more financial figures than medical ones.

I've read Sarah Gilbert's book on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and she openly says she prayed for as many different vaccines as possible, yet Zuckerman portrays her as a cold, heartless bitch focused only on her financial gain and glory. Zuckerman briefly mentions that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was not for profit but doesn't focus on it because it doesn't suit his narrative. His consistent attacks on AstraZeneca stem entirely from his American centrism. All the American vaccine creators are heroes and AstraZeneca are the bad guys. He also just straight out misinforms and misleads, for some reason Oxford's intense efforts to speed up the process are seen as negligence. Even when they did the same things as Moderna and Pfizer, such as working a step ahead despite results not coming back, they receive no praise. He says they chose not to use the two-proline modification developed by another scientist to stabilise the protein, attributing this decision to arrogance. Perhaps instead he should have focused on Oxford's own modification to the front end of the spike protein that was proven to generate much bigger responses in previously approved vaccines. He also says their decision to not test on over 55's was profit motivated, which it wasn't, it was a safety concern. They receive no praise for having a vaccine that doesn't need to be frozen yet Johnson & Johnson do, or the fact they had a viable MERS vaccine for years on the same proven technology they were going to use for Covid-19.

So we do 200+ pages on the history of various types of vaccine research and then when we get to the pointy end we really don't get a huge amount of science on the Covid-19 vaccines themselves. I would have loved some info on the Chinese vaccine or the Russian one. Although this book would also have been improved dramatically by reducing the cast of thousands to just one or two companies. The scattergun approach makes the narrative too hard to follow. The comparison between the vaccines is another huge missed opportunity for the book. J&J and AZ have similar problems, they both created blood clots in a tiny portion of patients, they also are both capable of simple refrigeration but AZ is more effective than J&J. Why is that? They're both Adenovirus vectors but J&J chose a human adenovirus and AZ a chimpanzee one. The logic being that the human one is more likely to be recognised by the body and destroyed before the covid-19 component can be processed, and the results bear that out. I'd also have loved a comparison between the mRNA vaccines, and then those compared to adenovirus vectors or Novavax's protein based one.

One thing you do learn from the book is the large debt Covid-19 vaccines owe to efforts to develop a vaccine for AIDS and a cure for cancer. It's clear that decades of research in those two fields paved the way for the rapid development and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

There's still some good information in here, unfortunately it's just buried under a set of ridiculous cartoon characters.

If you want to read a book about Covid-19 vaccines then read Vaxxers.
Profile Image for Brad.
55 reviews2 followers
October 26, 2021
Greg did an excellent job researching these stories and I believe it will be without a doubt the definitive book on the vaccine race. That’s no small thing given what a profound impact this will have on history. While there is a lot of science in it, the book is written in a way that anyone will be able to enjoy it. And for those who love science or work in the biotech industry, you will not only enjoy it, you will love it. I am a biotech investor and consider this required reading for anyone coming up in our industry going forward. There are many elements that make the book a success.

1. An appreciation for the long arc of science. The vaccine companies made success look easy, but the reality is anything but. Science doesn’t happen overnight, and this well-researched book talks about the decades of work that added up to today’s covid vaccine technologies (mRNA, adenovirus, protein subunit). Scientists will appreciate how the book connects the dots between basic research understandings from decades ago and today’s successes.

2. A fascinating story about interesting people. Any good story is ultimately about the people, and there are a lot of fascinating heroes in this book. Those in science will be able to relate to the ups and downs that the scientists in the book experience, and also their dogged determination over decades to their areas of expertise. The book also does a nice job of giving credit to some of the unsung heroes behind the scenes who made big decisions or discoveries that shaped the direction of the development of these technologies.

3. The book reminds us that history could have gone differently. It is easy to forget how doubtful it seemed at times that we would even have effective vaccines at this point. The book reminds us that there were a lot of near misses, and how the vaccine race could have taken bad turns. For example, it wasn’t until the last minute that Pfizer and BioNTech changed which construct they went with for their phase 3 trial (from a ‘receptor binding domain’ design to a ‘whole of spike protein’ one). Where would we be today if they hadn’t made this late change? It is a reminder to be thankful for these miracles.

4. There are major scoops in here. Even for those who followed the vaccine race closely in real time, there are behind the scenes details you will learn that are real scoops. For example, in the spring of 2020 while its phase 1 trial was underway at NIAID, Modera’s CEO was worried about having enough money to build out manufacturing and went just about everywhere asking for help, including to Merck. Yet Merck turned him down. That’s a big miss by Merck on what would have been a historic partnership. Also, I was unaware that Pfizer initially recommended to BioNTech that it not pursue a COVID vaccine (though they thankfully changed their mind quicky).

5. The book teaches important lessons. While there are many things to be learned from this story, for me the biggest one relates to the breakthrough success of mRNA. Almost all of the biggest companies and many of the largest and most sophisticated life sciences investors were mRNA skeptics leading up to COVID. Yet its success is likely to become one of medicine’s most important advances in decades. As an investor, this has taught me lessons about not following the crowd, giving longshots a chance, and understanding that the biggest and most transformational advances in technology will likely catch the establishment by surprise. Today I have a greater appreciation for the people who are out there working on the ‘next mRNA’, and how they will likely be doubted too.

This is an excellent read that I highly recommend. Everyone in biotech will love it.
Profile Image for Stefan Mitev.
164 reviews687 followers
November 27, 2021
Историята на COVID-19 ваксините в една книга.

Най-важното, което трябва да запомните е, че технологията с информационна РНК се разработва над 10 години преди началото на пандемията. Фирмите BioNTech и Moderna използват иРНК методи за имунотерапия на тумори и разработват други ваксини - срещу грип, HIV, RSV и др.

Все още много хора у нас се страхуват от ваксините. Поне част от тях са недоверчиви, защото смятат, че наличните продукти са създадени "прекалено бързо" и не са достатъчно изпитани. Фактите са съвсем други. Научният прогрес ни позволява да разполагаме с ваксини, за които в миналото се е чакало с години. Книгата разбива всички митове на антиваксърите за опасностите от т.нар. "Биг Фарма". Факт е, че много хора днес дължат живота си на компаниите BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca.

Прочетете я, ако все още имате някакви съмнения относно ваксинацията.
Profile Image for Aleksandar Tasev.
44 reviews12 followers
April 17, 2022
“Treatments save lives, but vaccines save populations.”
—Hanneke Schuitemaker

A Shot to Save the World is a book about some of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. It is a story of passion, perseverance, hard work, and brilliance. It is a tribute to those who have saved countless lives through their inventions. And it is an inspiration for future scientists.

In 1774, the English farmer Benjamin Jesty used a knitting needle to scrap pus from a cow showing symptoms of cowpox. Then, he intentionally infected his family with the material. Thus, the Jestys became immune to smallpox, and vaccination was born.

In 1796, Edward Jenner decided to do something similar. However, he evaluated his subjects, analyzed the results, and published his findings. Soon thereafter, vaccination was embraced worldwide.

Today, all vaccines must undergo a rigorous approval process. There are three testing phases involving numerous participants and randomized control groups. Neither the researchers nor the participants know who gets a real drug and who gets a placebo. Phase 1 is about safety, phase 2 is about impact, and phase 3 is about efficacy. To be approved, vaccines must work better than a placebo and be safe to use. They need not be 100 percent effective or have zero side effects because such utopian goals are practically unachievable and unnecessary. The side effect of many diseases is death, and the job of vaccines is to increase the chance of survival.

Vaccines work together with our immune system, which has two lines of defense: innate and adaptive. The former doesn’t require prior exposure to a pathogen to be activated against it, but it is not always powerful enough. The latter is slower but more specific. It involves so-called B cells, which produce antibodies against particular pathogens. What vaccines do is trigger the adaptive immune system as though real danger were present, thereby preparing it for the future.

Most vaccines employ a harmless version of a pathogen to achieve this. But there is another way: they can use messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), or as Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel calls it, “the software of life.”

This molecule takes instructions from the DNA, which is located in the cell nucleus, and brings them to the cytoplasm, where proteins are manufactured. It was discovered in 1961 but didn’t intrigue many researchers at first due to its short life. However, some were hooked.

Slowly but surely, scientists learned how to insert mRNA into a body to create proteins. In 1995, David Boczkowski even made an mRNA vaccine, but it wasn’t very good. It took 25 more years, thousands of scientists, and tens of billions of dollars to develop not one but two safe and effective Covid-19 mRNA vaccines.

Covid-19 is the latest coronavirus that has managed to jump from a nonhuman animal to humans. Other notable coronaviruses are OC43, which arose in the 19th century and is one of the causes of the common cold, SARS-Cov (2002), and MERS (2012). The last two are deadlier than Covid-19 but less infectious.

Only six months after the first Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, China, more than 100 teams were already racing against the clock to develop a vaccine against the virus. Companies such as BioNTech, Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax had gone all in, neglecting all other projects and working 24/7 on this one. Oxford, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson had brought their A game too. The results were spectacular. The world had several vaccines developed in less than a year: four times faster than the previous record (mumps in 1967).

In conclusion, A Shot to Save the World by Gregory Zuckerman is a masterfully written book based on fact-checked interviews with more than 300 key players in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine. It is about what went right. It educates and entertains. And it gives hope. After all, necessity drives progress, and crises can result in medical breakthroughs. The First World War gave us ambulances and anesthesia, the Second World War brought us antibiotics and antimalarial drugs, and the Covid-19 pandemic taught us how to develop vaccines faster than ever and how to harness the power of mRNA. If only we didn’t have to pay in human lives.
12 reviews2 followers
April 6, 2022
This book is a wonderful account of the decades-long research effort that culminated in the rapid development of several COVID-19 vaccines. All the major players from pioneering academic research into mRNA technologies, to the scientists and executives behind the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax, and J&J vaccines are included in Zuckerman’s well organized and highly accessible work. Whether or not you have a science background this is a fantastic read and I’d highly recommend. Talking about knitty gritty scientific details in a clear and concise manner is not something easy to do (I struggle a lot with it) but the author of this book excels at it. Please read.
670 reviews34 followers
November 29, 2021
Impeccably researched, a brilliant recounting of the hard work done for decades to come up with vaccines for viruses.

Amazing and informative read.
Profile Image for Remi.
33 reviews
January 22, 2022
Very well written and seems well researched. A broad set of characters from different companies and countries.

Strange about this book is that it reports the height of all characters who are 6ft or more. What could possibly be the intention here, except for casual heightism? If I am supposed to get excited about the characters' bodies, then please report their waist-to-hip ratio instead.
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 6 books42 followers
February 25, 2022
An excellent and fascinating account of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is putting the development of the vaccines into historical context. Zuckerman starts with the precursor research that led to the development. The researchers and scientists that were able to make the breakthroughs that made the COVID vaccines so effective had worked for years, decades in many cases, on trying to develop vaccines and treatments for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases. Though most of those efforts were not successful at their stated aims, what was learned was essential. This is another important aspect of the story of the vaccine development: failure is not failure simpliciter. There is, of course, the adage of try, try again; but also that even in failure there is so much to learn. And what was learned helped to make these vaccines possible.

The first two thirds of the book is focused on pre-2019. Tracing the work of key scientists and the various business, such as Moderna and BioNtech (but several other as well), that played central roles in the development of the vaccines. Zuckerman does a good job of explaining the basics of the science without getting overly technical.

The last third of the book heats up with the race for the vaccine that starts almost immediately with the emergences of the virus in China. Though we know how the story ends, Zuckerman is still able to create the experience of suspense as the reader waits for the results of the clinical trials. He puts us, through the direct first-hand, contemporaneous reports of the main players, into the conference rooms and zoom rooms as these reports come in. You experience their uncertainty and anxiety followed by the elation and release when the successful numbers come in.

Zuckerman does a good job of portraying the main players: showing their ambition and focus, their pride in their work. He is able to show us why we should admire and honor these researchers without lionizing them or making them into other-worldly figures. These are human beings doing the great things that human beings can do.

Profile Image for Pete.
893 reviews55 followers
February 5, 2022
A Shot to Save the World : The Remarkable Race and Groundbreaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines (2021) by Gregory Zuckerman details how numerous Covid-19 vaccines were made by various companies around the world.

Previous vaccines have taken 3-4 years at best to produce and test. It is a staggering achievement of the modern pharmaceutical industry that numerous vaccines were created and tested within a year of the discovery of Covid-19. A Shot to Save the World profiles the people, companies and some of the technology that made the Covid-19 vaccines possible.

First the development of mRNA vaccines and the people who made breakthroughs in various labs around the world is described, then the companies such as BioNTech, Moderna and Novovax that worked for years with these technologies but were all in financial trouble before Covid-19 came and they had a chance to work on something that their technology was ideal for.

The book gets faster and includes more laboratories and people, including the Oxford lab that created the Astra Zeneca vaccine and the people who worked on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The fantastic speed with which these teams were able to create a vaccine is just amazing.

A Shot to Save the World does a really good job of describing an incredible technological achievement and the people who really have saved millions of lives. It’s a bit like writing about the Apollo team and the space race. Zuckerman does the job very well and the book helps us appreciate just what modern science can do.
Profile Image for Nayab.
60 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2021
An insightful read covering not only the major Covid vaccines (moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, AZ, Janssen and Novavax) and their developments but also the history of the technologies they are based on (starting with developments in the 80s during the HIV pandemic). It was interesting to learn more about the quirky personalities and the hard work of so many interesting people involved in these major breakthroughs, including academics, government scientists, people in biotech/Pharma, and investors. This book is a good recap of how development these vaccines was neither easy nor did it come out of thin air; it was built on decades of hard work from hundreds of people - and it is work that’s still ongoing.
32 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2022
As I swiftly recover from COVID-19 as basically a head cold in quarantine May, 2022, I was grateful to learn the stories of the scientists, business leaders, investors and government officials who all took risks and pressed forward to bring us a vaccine and now anti-virals that are saving so many lives.

This book is a tribute to the human spirit and sense of discovery but it is also an important story of the need for entrepreneurship, capital markets and public/private partnership. The innovation in mRNA happened for the most part outside the walls of big pharma and aided at its lowest point by deep pocketed foundations and individuals and venture funds. May we always be willing to fund risk and to allow for new voices to challenge the status quo. “Never have so many been indebted to so few” - WC
Profile Image for Adibah(whatdibsread).
201 reviews6 followers
February 18, 2022
A Shot To Save The World covers a breakthrough for major Covid vaccines developments like Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, and so on. At first I thought this book is about how developers find a cure for the current pandemic but I am wrong. This book also covered the developments in the 80s on how scientists race to find cures for HIV and Parkinson's. On a simple note, this book shows how hard it is for them to find something that will affect the entire population on the earth.

Furthermore, this book is not a typical non-fic like I've read before, it is a narrative from the scientist's point of view, their work, and even their entire life. It is quite entertaining seeing something that we think is so easy to make, turn out a result of them struggling and having their obsession intertwined with each other.

However, the first part of the book was very slow, with Zuckerman just laying down the progression and basics of mRNA. It is intense as the progress is shown along with their tight budgets. When it starts to dig around January 2020, I am more invested to see their sweat, blood, and tears.

When I finished this book, I thought of the only reason we easily get access to vaccines is because of decades of work from researchers and scientists. I only read their journey but I am sure it was hell for them to find something that will benefit and help the world today. This is the reason I am more determined to appreciate having an easy way to access vaccines.
Anyone who is involved with the biotech industry or a science geek would love this book. Thank you @times.reads and @putrifariza for this copy.
Personal rating: 4.5/5🌟
65 reviews
November 20, 2021
A remarkable job of reporting (in essentially real time) the efforts to create a COVID vaccine that reminds us of the effort and energy and money and skill and serendipity involved in producing the various vaccines we now enjoy. Zuckerman is able to provide enough background and context and explain the science in ways that are comprehensible without bogging down the narrative. And to keep the story of how we arrived at this time engaging even though we already know the broad outlines of Moderna; BioNTech/Pfizer, J&J, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Novavax.
Profile Image for Min Hui Chua.
127 reviews2 followers
February 3, 2022
I was in a hurry to read this because I wanted it to be as relevant as possible. I guess the trouble with the pandemic is that things are changing so quickly. This was published just as the delta variant emerged and we’re already at the next variant by the time I’m done reading.

The book was slow at the beginning, the first 70% laying down the basics and historical progress of mRNA delivery systems in general. The last 30% was much more intense as it started digging into the series of events from Jan 2020.

I think the lesson learnt here is this - the key reason we could get a vaccine out in record time was because of the years - in fact, decades - of work from the scientists and researchers that came before us. Science is a funny thing. It’s about being at the right place at the right time, while ensuring the right support system and infrastructure to further your findings. It’s sad that many researchers in the field of mRNA research did not see it through to the end because people thought DNA was the big shiny star and neglected mRNA research.

After reading this, I can better appreciate the work behind vaccine development.

My favourite quote - Winston Churchill: Never was so much owed by so many to so few.
Profile Image for John Crippen.
449 reviews2 followers
February 11, 2022
I rarely cheer when reading a book, but by the time I got to the November 2020 chapter of this book, when the phase 3 trial results started coming in for BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford, I was cheering and laughing every few pages. And then a few months later when the underdog Novavax finally caught a break too. Yay! This became a real page-turner after the background chapters on the origins of the scientists and their companies. As is often the case, I learned about this book through Russ Roberts' EconTalk interview with the author. The book is everything that you'll be expecting after listening to that interview.
31 reviews
December 25, 2021
Absolute Must Read and Possible Pulitzer Candidate

About as good as non-fiction can be - and a source of hope for treatments and vaccines of other maladies. A blow by blow look at the development of Covid vaccines going back more than thirty years - much of it by men and women previously unknown to the world at large. And, to steal a line from the musical Hamilton, when you want to get the job done, give it to an immigrant. A must read for everyone.
Profile Image for Luke.
97 reviews11 followers
April 9, 2022
I love learning through history, specifically history that tells stories of specific people, showing the reality that they faced, and the decisions they made. It’s why I have spent so much time reading biographies of important people in American history. It’s also why I decided to give this book a shot.

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on all of our lives, and one of the most polarizing aspects of it has been debates on health measures and specifically vaccines, so I wanted a history that told stories of the people who made them. I didn’t want a history of the pandemic and the politics, but the history of people at the center of vaccine development and the companies they ran.

This book provides that and it does a good job of crafting many different mini biographies of major players in modern vector based and mRNA vaccine technologies that, when summed up, tell a nice story of the evolution of vaccines. That story then leads nicely into the the stories of the companies we know today and their leaders delivering vaccines in the pandemic.

The author also generally does a good job of keeping politics out of the story, I attribute that to his journalistic skills. The introduction and the afterword are the exception and the areas where the most political statements are found, which is appropriate.

So just for the above points, the book is worth reading. The history of modern vector based and mRNA vaccines are important, no matter what side of the political isle you land on, or whichever side of the vaccine debate you land on.

I gave it 3 stars because it is worth reading for everything I said above, but it isn’t the easiest to follow, jumping around in time and between different technologies while building the overall story. Maybe if I read this quicker, and in less sittings, I’d have less issue with it. Given the size of the book, some of the biographies come off as a bit superficial, and perhaps there’s some bias here in terms of portrayal. It also leaves out a lot of the safety debate that I know these people are dealing with. For example, it does talk about the blood clotting issue J&J ran into, but it completely leaves out the myocarditis related concerns. It also leaves out details on the emergency approval hearings where there was dissent and any details about the type of disapproval from the hesitant or “anti-vax” persuasion (which has definitely come to a peak in this period). Maybe this is because of when it was completed. I’m not saying I expected the author to get into the political debate and provide evidence for each side and what not, but to me, how these specific people dealt with all this criticism and skepticism while delivering their product should play into their mini biographies more. Specifically, their safety trials and even efficacy trials should have served as a great way to talk about this more.

So in this sense, I feel it was a bit incomplete. I personally was turned off by the politics in the intro and especially the afterword, but like I said above, the author kept it mostly there.

Overall worth the read.
Profile Image for Faisal Chairul.
206 reviews8 followers
July 5, 2023
Di bagian 1/3 awal dibuat bingung, terus dibuat penasaran di bagian pertengahan, tapi dibuat bingung lagi di bagian 1/3 akhir.

Prolognya memikat hati. Nyeritain tentang kondisi sulit pendanaan proyek pengembangan vaksin COVID-19 yang dialami perusahaan yang berbasis di Jerman, BioNTech dan satu perusahaan lainnya yang berbasis di AS, Moderna.

Masuk ke chapter-chapter awal langsung dibuat bingung, soalnya timelinenya mundur jauh banget ke tahun 1979-1987. Pembagian chapter buku ini mirip sebuah novel, tanpa ada keterangan judul maupun subjudul pembahasan masing-masing chapter, seolah memaksa pembaca untuk menikmati saja alur yang dibuat oleh penulis. Tapi kemudian, semakin dibaca justru semakin dibuat bingung, karena tokoh-tokoh peneliti beserta penelitian yang dibahas gak ada kaitannya dengan virus SARS-CoV2 ataupun penyakit COVID-19 seperti yang ditampilkan di awal. Bahasan di chapter-chapter awal ini ngangkat pengembangan obat ataupun vaksin penyakit AIDS (disebabkan oleh virus HIV) dan kanker.

Semakin masuk ke chapter-chapter berikutnya dan menyelesaikan buku ini sampai akhir, baru saya paham alurnya. Secara garis besar, pembahasan buku ini terbagi menjadi dua bagian: "ground breaking science behind COVID-19 vaccine" dan "the race for COVID-19 vaccine". Bagian pertama menceritakan proses dibalik pengembangan teknologi yang digunakan dalam mengembangkan vaksin COVID-19, yaitu adenovirus-vector (Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson&Johnson), mRNA-vector (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech), dan protein-based (Novavax).

Teknologi-teknologi tersebut gak ujug-ujug dikuasai oleh peneliti-peneliti pengembang vaksin COVID-19. Perkembangan teknologi-teknologi tersebut melintasi waktu, peneliti, dan virus lain yang diteliti (virus SARS-CoV, virus HKU1, virus HIV, virus Zika, dan virus Ebola, bahkan penyakit kanker). Gak jarang, perkembangan teknologi-teknologi itu bisa terjadi ketika sebuah perusahaan melakukan redefinisi visi dan tujuan mereka, seperti BioNTech dan Moderna yang masing-masing awalnya mendedikasikan teknologi mRNA-nya untuk pencegahan kanker dan terapeutik.

Memasuki "bagian dua", tentang "the race for COVID-19 vaccine", sayangnya, suasana yang diangkat justru persaingan antar perusahaan maupun teknologi yang digunakannya. Perusahaan A memimpin, perusahaan B tertinggal, perusahaan C menyalip. Teknologi A lebih efeketif, teknologi B lebih cepat diproduksi, teknologi C lebih mudah discale-up. Suasana yang mengabaikan fakta bahwa musuh sebenarnya itu adalah virus SARS-CoV2 atau penyakit COVID-19.
Profile Image for Calvin Caulee.
117 reviews
June 16, 2022
I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and thought that it was perhaps one of the best books ever written. Now I've grown tired of that "journalistic narrative" genre. This book is not bad at all, it's an easy read but it's too reductionist for my taste.

This books relate to how the covid-19 vaccines were the product of atleast a century's work. From the creation of typical vaccination to the evolution that led to mRNA. Discoveries in science is never the result of a singular moment, but rather the results of different work, paths, failures and successes from scientists trying to solve the puzzle. While there are some interesting information such as the creation of Moderna or BioNTech, there's too much unnecessary biographical information about so many people. The author also makes it sound like this was a race where financial gain was the main incentive there. How Wall Street dictated how the biotech companies operated. He also focused on quirky scientists rather than understanding that breakthroughs are always due to team-effort. There is some added drama about the characterisation of some key people and how every company was trying to not go bankrupt

It's not a bad book to relax but it didn't really teach me anything new. Chapters about the science were missing. If you want a book about covid-19 vaccines. Go for Vaxxers by the Oxford researchers who actually worked in the lab.
Profile Image for Jamie Ferguson.
26 reviews
August 9, 2022
A fascinating look into the how the different technologies behind the Covid vaccines developed, some having started decades ago. The first half was a bit dry and slow going, and I appreciate the fact that the author has a list of characters and what companies they worked for at the beginning, because otherwise I would have gotten confused. It picks up later as the pandemic started, and how different approaches were tried to make the vaccine as quickly as possible.

Sometimes it did strike me as rather... well, coincidentally fortunate that these biotech and pharmaceutical companies, many of which were going bankrupt or just not doing well financially in late 2019 or early 2020 had a windfall fall into their laps, making them worth billions. Ahem. I can see why some people are suspicious, and conspiracies about the pandemic being manmade abound, which the author briefly hints about.

But having said that, I do have more respect for the years of effort and research that went into making effective and safe vaccines, and I am grateful to have benefited from receiving one. It is nice to see how much the scientists cared about saving lives, spending months of long shifts at the lab and losing sleep due to the stress of feeling as if they were not doing enough, and I think if more people could become knowledgeable in some way about how the technology didn't come from nowhere, was tested for safety years before the pandemic, there would have been less skepticism at the beginning of 2021.
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,366 reviews1,160 followers
April 28, 2022
This book is a history (journalistic version) of the collective effort behind the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is likely one of the best covered stories ever in real time, so I will not divulge and spoilers, since most people will already know them. The book combines a focus on the medical/technological aspects of vaccines with the evolution of the work of individual researchers and their teams at universities and in Pharma firms and new startups. The government role in this is real but downplayed in the book, which is focusing on the dynamics of competing research teams to develop and administer their shots successfully before competing teams did.

So this is a short of intellectual/commercial biography of the more successful COVID-19 vaccines that begins with the work of individuals and grows and morphs into the eventual teams as the work of the vaccine researchers developed. The book is organized by chapters, each covering a period of some years - up until the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when the pandemic arrived and matters got complicated in a hurry.

It is a nice book and is consistent with other accounts of some of these actors, as well as press accounts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first of a number of books on COVID published recently, which seems to fit with Dr. Fauci being quoted as saying the US is out of the pandemic phase (or did he???).

It you are interested in COVID, this is a nice story about how the vaccine came about. It is especially valuable for showing the trials and tribulations of all the players happening simultaneously.

I strongly recommend the book.
Profile Image for Hanie Noor.
155 reviews18 followers
January 19, 2022
My one sentence review:
A good back story of science behind vaccine development from the 70s until recently, specifically on few prominent figures who has worked on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Intrigued to read on the back story of these vaccines tho not a complete one, it did gives a pretty decent overview. The title is quite misleading, the only part really discusses on COVID-19 vaccine is the last 1/4 part of the book and the rest are just back story and too much on the individuals than the vaccine itself. Quite sad, not that I don’t want to know bout the excellent scientists but I would appreciate more context on the science breakthrough of the vaccine itself to know what gets into my body.

There’s a minor part where author is being bias which created a gap on the vaccine comparison. i.e Even now we’ve seen in the news that AZ vaccine works well even against mutation as those whose infected show less severe symptoms but the author focuses on the tiny problem faced by the institution instead of highlighting on the fact that it uses different adenovirus vectors than J&J which explains the effectiveness.

Basically, the institutions uses different approach i.e; mRNA vaccines, adenovirus vectors, and protein based. Note that Chinese and Russian vaccines aren’t discussed in this book which I was really expecting to read.

Scientists are able to speed up the vaccine development effort thanks to decades of research on AIDS and cancer cure, those unfruitful tests are being used as solutions to develop vaccines for COVID-19. Shout out to scientists who has worked hard day and night chasing rushed deadlines in the making of these vaccines. You protected our lives.

Review courtesy of Times Reads.
Profile Image for Katie Martin.
52 reviews3 followers
September 4, 2022
Absolutely fascinating and informative look into the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. I didn't expect to get choked up when I read the accounts of the company leaders finally learning the efficacy of their product. So many years of background research, failure, and success worked together for the scientific world to be able to produce an effective vaccine in a shockingly short time. I'm absolutely in awe.
Profile Image for Lisa Marsh.
1 review
December 26, 2021
Great read!

This will be a history book for future generations! Thrilling tale of how the world came together to believe in the underdog and how perseverance prevailed to save mankind.
Profile Image for Atalya.
4 reviews
June 7, 2022
this book was not only masterfully written but also skillfully wove the history, science, and key players in the race to make the covid vaccine. i highly recommend!!! good job greg!!!
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,387 reviews156 followers
February 15, 2022
This was a very good book.

Interesting read on the race for a vaccination to this COVID-19.

A few stories were new to me!

Would recommend.

Just get the shot people!

137 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2021
An absorbing look at how research and dedicated scientists working for the past 40 years were able to produce successful vaccines for SARS-CoV2.
Profile Image for Tuna Willow.
47 reviews1 follower
December 22, 2021
Very engaging and informative read about the history or mRNA vaccines, biotech competition, and the covid-19 vaccine race.
Profile Image for Megan.
94 reviews
February 23, 2022
I wish I could have read this book before being vaccinated for COVID-19. Though it would not have changed my decision to be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, it would have given me greater peace of mind, confidence, and appreciation going into the appt.

"A Shot to Save the World" reads like a historical drama. The development of new technologies is well explained for a reader without a background in science. I highly recommend it!
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