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.


Thank you, Andy, for the Measles

This excellent piece by Michael Fitzpatrick in the Times of London shows what happens when enough people in a country with a lot of visitors stop vaccinating their toddlers against measles. You get a measles epidemic. Measles is a very serious disease that can kill.

A lot of the blame for this has to go to Andrew Wakefield and his bogus theory linking the MMR shot to autism. You can't fault the man for having a faulty hypothesis. But to continue profiting from it in the face of all scientific evidence is shameful, even more shameful to play the martyr when the scientific community refuses to jump in step with your foolishness.

Luckily, Americans are a bit more level-headed, or perhaps too busy watching YouTube to clue into the latest quack theories. The latest MMWR data show that vaccination rates are holding steady in the U.S., despite the scares that affect chunks of fearful parents in certain communities.

Epidemiology in the Dock

After two weeks of examining arcane biological theories for Michelle Cedillo’s autism, the federal “vaccine court” on Monday heard a final day of testimony that centered on two dozen population studies of the possible link between vaccines and autism—evidence that has convinced the world’s major health agencies there is no such connection.

The case was put forward by Eric Fombonne, a leading autism expert who described evidence from Japanese, European and North American studies that refute the link. Thimerosal was removed from the vaccine schedule in Canada and Denmark in the 1990s, while Japanese children have not routinely received MMR vaccination since 1992. These situations created experimental conditions for scientists to examine the thesis that removing thimerosal—or the triple MMR shot—would cause autism rates to decline. In no case did this occur. To the contrary, autism prevalence rates have increased in every country where awareness of autism has increased.

MMR Theory Comes Under Fire in Court

In April 2000, with the British MMR scare in full flower and thousands of alarmed parents refusing to vaccinate their kids, scientists Andrew Wakefield and John O’Leary appeared in the circus-like hearing room of Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind) to present their evidence that the measles-mumps-rubella “jab” was causing a gut infection that turned kids autistic.
With the approval of the partisan audience attending the Government Reform Committee hearing, O’Leary stated that his laboratory had found measles in 24 of the 25 samples from the GI tracts of autistic children under the care of Wakefield, whose 1998 article in the Lancet had kicked off the theory that MMR vaccination caused autism.

Painful home videos in the autism/vaccines trial

The government began its defense against the vaccines-cause-autism theory on Monday with expert testimony that Michelle Cedillo was showing symptoms of autism well before she got a measles vaccine. Using some of the same videos that the court had viewed during the testimony of Cedillo’s mom, Dr. Eric Fombonne pointed out behaviors in baby Michelle that he said were evidence of developmental delays.

Teresa Cedillo had presented the videos to show that the girl was normal before she got the MMR shot in December 1995, when she was 16 months old. But Fombonne, director of child psychiaty at McGill University in Montreal, asserted that her failure to respond to parental promptings, and her hand flapping, mouthing, and single-minded obsession with a Sesame Street video—all of these occurring when she was as young as 8 months old--were early warning signs of autism.

Are they seriously trying to win this case?

After the first week of a hearing into the claims of nearly 5,000 autistic children, the case of a tragically ill Arizona girl seemed to hinge on the legitimacy of an Irish laboratory’s findings of measles virus fragments in the girl's GI tract.

Autism in Court - Day 1

At 8:58 a.m. this morning,  Teresa and Michael Cedillo of Yuma, Arizona pushed their 12-year-old, wheelchair-bound daughter Michelle to the front of a gleaming federal claims courtroom. While the court officers listened in silence, Michelle, a pudgy girl with short hair, yelled and groaned and punched herself in the face for a few minutes, before her guardians wheeled her back out of the room. No one was to misunderstand what this proceeding was about.

Snarkiness at Autism Speaks

Fox News this week has a report on the dispute between Autism Speaks founders Bob and Suzanna Wright (he's chairman of NBC), and their daughter Katie. The issue of vaccines and autism is at the center of their argument. Katie, whose son Christian is autistic, blames vaccines for the disorder. But Autism Speaks has been soft-pedaling the issue as it seeks hegemony in the advocacy world.

The Vaccination Zeitgeist Reaches Hollywood

Am I the only one who noticed that the thimerosal theory has hit the Hollywood big time? In a most unexpected place. Tonight I saw the very crude, hilarious new movie Knocked Up, directed by Judd Apatow. It’s a very simple story—gentle, unemployed stoner (Seth Rogen) knocks up up-and-coming Hollywood entertainment journalist (Katherine Heigl) during a drunken one night stand; she decides to have the baby; they figure out how to get along while enduring a lot of shouting matches and hijinks, leading to a sweet conclusion.

Vaers and Veritas

The conservative legal group Judicial Watch last week issued a news release announcing that it had uncovered three deaths linked to the human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV), which has been the subject of furious debate around the country as states decide whether to require 6th grade girls to be vaccinated before admitting them to school. The release, in which Judicial Watch claimed that its perusal of adverse event reports from the vaccine also turned up cases of autoimmune disease and fetal damage in vaccinated pregnant women, produced a minor media splash, with articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. The story didn’t get play in most other outlets, probably for this simple reason: It’s bullshit.

Autism, the 'Environment' and the IOM

The Institute of Medicine held a workshop this past week to examine research into the "environmental" causes of autism. It was an opportunity for discussion among scientists pursuing possible links, and a chance for some of the autism "advocacy" community to press their research priorities. No less a bigwig than Alan Leshner, president of the AAAS and editor of Science, presided over the meeting, also attended by the directors of two of the National Institutes of Health.

The opinions of the parents of autistics, especially angry parents, occupy pride of place in our Oprah-fied public culture. Ignore them at your own peril. This is not an entirely bad thing. But there's a weird disparity between what's expected of the scientists and advocates in a setting like this.