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VACCINATED by Paul A., MD Offit


One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases

by Paul A., MD Offit

Pub Date: June 12th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-06-122795-0
Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

Comprehensive biography of the self-effacing, amazingly productive scientist who developed vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis A and B, pneumococcus, meningococcus and Haemophilus influenzae type b (HiB—a child killer).

Himself a co-developer of rotavirus vaccine that prevents a diarrheal disease in children, Offit (Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania) feels that recognition is long overdue for Maurice Hilleman. The author interviewed Hilleman not long before his death in 2005, following 48 years with pharmaceutical giant Merck. His biography focuses on the scientific career, which says it all: Hilleman had no hobbies, he worked himself and his staff hard (exercising a particularly hot and profane temper), sparing only times to be with wife and daughters. Indeed, the throat swabbings of one daughter provided the mumps virus used to develop one of Hilleman’s early successes. Offit does well in capturing the evolution of vaccine technology, from attenuating the virulence of live viruses by passage through other species’ tissues or cell cultures to genetic engineering tricks that induce bacteria to make the proteins needed to evoke an immune response. The author also revisits the reprehensible but once-accepted practice of testing vaccines (including Salk’s polio vaccine) on institutionalized mentally retarded children. Poor living conditions made these kids vulnerable to infections and hence likely to benefit from vaccines, argued researchers, who also tested themselves and their children. Bad press has plagued other vaccines. Fear of contamination with monkey viruses led to the use of pure fetal cells for growing virus, inciting the wrath of religious groups. More recently, a hullabaloo was raised by claims that inoculation with the one-shot measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (another Hilleman triumph) causes autism. Offit dismisses such claims, pointing to the bad science—and bad scientists—responsible while lamenting the harm done.

Makes a strong case that people get more excited by miraculous cures than by vaccines that save unseen multitudes by preventing disease in the first place.