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Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.
Meredith Wadman's masterful account recovers not only the science of this urgent race, but also the political roadblocks that nearly stopped the scientists. She describes the terrible dilemmas of pregnant women exposed to German measles and recounts testing on infants, prisoners, orphans, and the intellectually disabled, which was common in the era. These events take place at the dawn of the battle over using human fetal tissue in research, during the arrival of big commerce in campus labs, and as huge changes take place in the laws and practices governing who "owns" research cells and the profits made from biological inventions. It is also the story of yet one more unrecognized woman whose cells have been used to save countless lives.
With another frightening virus imperiling pregnant women on the rise today, no medical story could have more human drama, impact, or urgency today than The Vaccine Race.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Ruth B on 03-16-17
Fantastic book and excellent reader
Would you consider the audio edition of The Vaccine Race to be better than the print version?
What about Nancy Linari’s performance did you like?
The performance was excellent. It wasn't flat but also didn't distract from the book. Just the right amount of emotion. The reader's voice is pleasant and enjoyable to listen to.
Any additional comments?
I don't typically read books that have a big science component because, although I believe in the importance of science, I have little background in it and my lazy brain usually has a hard time paying attention and following what's being discussed. I'm glad I made an exception with this fantastic book, however. To begin with, even though the book does cover a lot of scientific ground, the writer explains everything so clearly and simply that I actually understood all of it and maybe even retained some of it. Besides that, this is a book not only about science but also about politics, ethics, history, economics, and most interestingly (at least to me) the complexities of human nature and how it can get the best of even tho most brilliant among us. Wadman weaves all the skeins together with a masterful blend of storytelling skill, knowledge, compassion, and here and there a welcome touch of humor. Whether she's writing about a top scientist or a child afflicted by rubella, you feel that each person in the book is real and multi-dimensional. I came away from the book with a chilling new awareness of how much politics can affect the way medical advances are translated (or not) into actual therapies and a sense of how limited we all are by our circumstances and our selves.
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