In this comprehensive work, colorful anecdotes, compelling arguments and historical insights shed light on this revolutionary and controversial weapon against infectious disease. At the same time, Allen tells a parallel history of failure, deadly reactions and the public's confusion over vaccine's efficacy and necessity. He raises complex questions about individual rights versus public good, and the moral ambiguity of sacrificing the one to save the many.
Allen claims the anti-vaccine movement is nearly as old as vaccines themselves, beginning with the Puritans who thought scratching a small amount of smallpox virus into the skin a challenge to God's will. Counted among the most famous detractors, British dramatist George Bernard Shaw and Henry Bergh, founder of the SPCA. And the movement's most unlikely, yet most enduring symbol: the Raggedy Ann doll.
Since the early 20th century, contaminated vaccines, DTP injuries and a purported link to autism have fueled efforts to ban mandatory immunization in America. The most recent controversy stems from efforts to vaccinate preteen girls against HPV, or human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
Vaccine's champions also are profiled, beginning with Edward Jenner's 1796 smallpox discovery that formed the basis for understanding immunity. Allen includes Louis Pasteur's work with rabies and cholera and Albert Sabin's and Jonas Salk's polio breakthroughs. He credits the Army's fear of bioterrorism and tropical disease, as well as a polio-stricken president, for ushering in the golden age of immunization in the 1940s.
It's hard to imagine, but according to this history, in the early 20th century, some diseases killed more young American children in one day than SARS has in a year. A sobering thought for parents who ignore their babies' booster shots or complain about school-entry laws.
Informative histories on infectious disease, including a spate of works on the black plague and 1918 superflu, appear to be a publishing trend that mirrors, no doubt, our own current events. "Vaccine," which includes a number of illustrations and photographs, is a commendable companion to these histories.--Victoria Hood, March 4, 2007.