Vaccination has greatly diminished death, illness and suffering in the world. But no other medical technology has been so dogged with controversy. The book chronicles the development of the key lifesaving vaccines since the 18th century. It tells the stories of great scientists and their discoveries, of the protests and pain along the stumbling path of progress. This is the first book to tell the whole story of vaccination for a general audience. In light of controversies about flu vaccine and autism, it will be of particular interest to parents, pediatricians, public health workers and anyone fascinated by medical history. Read More>>

Also Available: Table of Contents and Index

Arthur Allen is a Washington DC-based journalist who has written on vaccine issues in The New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, The New Republic, Atlantic Monthly, Salon and Slate.

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Vaccination's Santa Claus

Two interesting, upbeat vaccine-related pieces in the news over the weekend reveal how much good a billionaire can do, even if he’s a billionaire whose business practices have excited a lot of mistrust and loathing. The Gates Foundation’s decision to go into vaccines in a big way, with a $750 million down commitment in 1999, was kind of the tipping point that seems, for the moment at least, to have transformed vaccines from a loss leader of the pharmaceutical industry into something that can provide decent bucks for the drug companies while saving millions of lives.

The Boston Globe’s John Donnelly (full disclosure–we worked together at AP years ago and he quotes me in the piece) reports that the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiatives, which Gates’ dough helped establish, estimates that increased vaccination efforts in developing countries over the past five years have save 2.3 million lives (!) What other public health intervention can have a result like that? Of course, once these kids have been kept from dying of measles or whooping cough, what kind of lives do they lead in the slums of Dar es Salaam or Accra? A good question, but certainly saving a life is always worth it. Malthusian concerns should spur us to make life on the lifeboat more comfortable, not to pull up the anchor.

The Los Angeles Times points out that the three vaccines licensed by FDA in 2006–the new rotavirus, the HPV and the shingles vaccines (which is just the chickenpox vaccine, with doseage slightly modified for adults)–set a record for new vaccines in a single year. The buying power of Gates and other charities is making vaccines attractive again for Big Pharma, after a long decline in interest in vaccines that began, actually, in the late 1960s. One point that wasn’t raised in this article is the fact that vaccine companies in the developing world –especially Korea, Indonesia and India – are increasingly producing the vaccines used in poor countries. As a result, the World Health Organization and other groups and governments that buy millions of vaccines aren’t as reliant on the generosity of Merck, Sanofi, GSK–who discount their vaccines depending on the market, but still sell at prices that are often 10x what, say, the Serum Institute of India charges. This is true for vaccines against things like measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and even hepatitis B. The newer vaccines, including rota, hpv, pneumococcus, however, are still made only by the big Western companies.

As I point out in my book, Gates is following in the footsteps of John D. Rockefeller, who about a century ago created the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research and the Rockefeller Foundation. These institutions did amazing basic science on viruses and bacteria, and ran campaigns to eradicate diseases like hookworm and yellow fever.

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