VACCINE RACE: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs

VACCINE RACE: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs

MEREDITH WADMAN    Book Number: 88503    Product format: Hardback

The story of the Rubella vaccine, which transformed world health in the 1960s, is still highly relevant to the way vaccines are researched, developed and administered. This epic book describes lifesaving medical advances in clear and comprehensible detail while acknowledging the ethical and political background that with hindsight calls into question the way some of the results were achieved. In 1960 a young scientist in Pennsylvania published a paper suggesting that, contrary to popular belief, cells obtained from living organisms would not replicate indefinitely but would be subject to the process of ageing. Five years later he gained the opportunity to test his theory on uncontaminated human cells from a legally aborted foetus, leaving behind the monkey cells which were often laden with viruses. Breaking them down to tiny units he set them to replicate and called the result WI-38. Each of his small bottles would produce 22 million tons of cells before they died, and they were subsequently used to vaccinate 300 million people, wiping out rubella in the US and also protecting people from a range of viral illnesses including measles, hepatitis and rabies. The UK's friendliness to WI-38 meant that Pfizer established a facility in the UK to manufacture polio vaccine. The cells became the subject of a battle with the US government over who owned them and whether they were safe, but in the late 1970s the commercialisation of research meant that WI-38 was acquired by companies such as Merck for development. Starting in 1966, questions began to be asked about ethics, for instance the experimental vaccination of prisoners with hepatitis-tainted serum, intellectually disabled children with rubella vaccine, and premature African American babies with polio vaccine. The author concludes by asking her readers: what are we doing today that will cause our grandchildren to ask how we let it happen? An absorbing read. 436pp, photos. Remainder mark.
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ISBN 9780525427537
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