9 reviews on the history and development of vaccines.

book covers

Conis, Elena. Vaccine nation: America’s changing relationship with immunization. Chicago, 2015. 353p bibl index afp ISBN 9780226923765, $27.50; ISBN 9780226923772 ebook, $18.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2015

Conis (history, Emory Univ.) describes the scope of this work as “a social history of vaccination in the United States over the last half-century.”  She presents a detailed, step-by-step historical account, beginning in the 1960s, based on an extensive literature review of all the events.  This includes social, economic, political, and commercial aspects as well as issues such as poverty, sex, government, drug companies, the women’s movement, society’s perception of disease, and more.  These all contributed to the still-current controversy over the safety and medical value of vaccination, which started with the introduction of the polio vaccine.  The subject matter is well organized in three parts and nine chapters, each covering a particular aspect in an unbiased, well-written style.  Conis’s expertise and comprehension of the subject are evident.  General readers may find the magnitude and detail in the presentation overwhelming, but the work is valuable to anyone with a singular interest in the topic.  A 64-page notes section and a 10-page bibliography support the text. Summing Up: Highly recommended. History of medicine and health sciences collections serving upper-division undergraduates through professional/practitioners and informed general audiences. —R. S. Kowalczyk, University of Michigan

Glynn, Ian. The life and death of smallpox, by Ian Glynn and Jenifer Glynn. Cambridge, 2004. 278p ISBN 0521845424, $25.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2005

The global eradication of smallpox is one of the greatest triumphs of public health. Smallpox is the first and only disease to be totally eradicated from the earth. For more than three millennia, people across the world suffered from the ravages of the disease. Smallpox killed millions and left many of its victims horribly scarred and, in some cases, blind. Ian and Jenifer Glynn (Cambridge) meticulously describe the history of the disease from the time of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs to the last natural case, which occurred in Somalia in 1977. The authors skillfully tell the story of the early medical efforts to prevent the disease, the work of Edward Jenner and the introduction of vaccination at the end of the 18th century, and the final eradication campaign by the World Health Organization. The authors also discuss the potential threat of the use of smallpox as a bioterrorist weapon. This book is thoroughly researched and eminently readable. Although several books have been written on the history of smallpox, this is the definitive work on the subject. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —R. M. Mullner, University of Illinois at Chicago

Hausman, Bernice L. Anti/vax: reframing the vaccine controversy. Cornell, 2019. 275p bibl index ISBN 9781501735622, $29.95; ISBN 9781501735639 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2019

As this review is being written, measles outbreaks are occurring around the world and are accompanied by efforts to persuade parents to vaccinate their children and thereby restore levels of herd immunity. This study of the culture and rhetoric of both sides of vaccine hesitancy is therefore timely and important. Hausman (medical humanities, Penn State) examines the arguments raised against the hesitant—that they deny science, for example—and illuminates how these arguments rarely achieve their desired ends. Blaming and shaming do not change positions. The vaccine refusers are not in the same category as those who deny the moon landing 50 years ago. Hausman observes that most do not deny the efficacy of vaccines but question the safety of their manufacture, immunization scheduling, and the bureaucracies that mediate between medicine and its intended beneficiaries. Digging deeper into the pro- and anti-vaccination literature shows a cultural distrust of the authority of medical science that in turn raises questions of how science is taught and understood in society. Solid scholarship, clear writing, and a deep bibliography help this book stand out from others on this subject. Hausman’s work is spot on and deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels and professionals. —T. P. Gariepy, Stonehill College

Melo-Martín, Inmaculada de. The fight against doubt: how to bridge the gap between scientists and the public, by Inmaculada de Melo-Martín and Kristen Intemann. Oxford, 2018. 214p index ISBN 9780190869229, $39.95; ISBN 9780190869236 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2019

Contentious issues—anthropomorphic climate change, GMO foods, safety of vaccination—are rife with debate about the validity of scientific claims used to buttress proposed policies. Many people are frustrated by others’ refusal to acknowledge scientific consensus, regarding continued dissent as ill-informed and irrational. But the criteria for illegitimate dissent (thoughtfully critiqued in this book) often run afoul of the crucial role of dissent and skepticism in arriving at scientific fact. The authors argue that repeated assertions of scientific consensus can be counterproductive, often perceived as patronizing or as dismissive of the dissenters’ concerns. Critiquing the values or loyalties of dissenters likewise ignores the crucial role of values in research and in interpreting data. The authors seek to reframe such discussions to recognize both the contingency of scientific results and the role of conflicting values in assessing consensus. The presentation is careful, fair, and original, free of unnecessary jargon or inflated rhetoric. Researchers and professionals working the boundary between scientific research and public policy will need to consider the views here. Because dissent against prevailing views in science touches on the foundations of scientific inquiry, this could be a useful text in undergraduate courses on the philosophy of science or public policy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels. —D. Bantz, University of Alaska

Millward, Gareth. Vaccinating Britain: mass vaccination and the public since the Second World War. Manchester University Press, 2019. 279p bibl index ISBN 9781526126757, $35.00; ISBN 9781626126764 ebook, open access.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2019

This well-written book examines the development of vaccination in Great Britain in the period from 1947 to the 1970s, particularly the public’s power and trust in the national government and in local authorities. But Millward (Centre for the History of Medicine, Univ. of Warwick, UK) offers much more than that: he looks at class, citizenship, immigration, risk, science and the development of technologies, and individual and group behavior and social change. In moving from the postwar period to the 1970s, the author looks at how health care was defined and delivered; which groups (local or national) had authority, confidence, and power; and the role of politics and governments in pubic health. Millward is sensitive to changes in authority and the function of government, and he demonstrates how these are historically contingent. He uses diphtheria, smallpox, polio, pertussis, and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) as examples to illustrate various time periods and how health became a right and good health became part of good citizenship. The bibliography is excellent, and the book as a whole is timely. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —P. LeClerc, emerita, St. Lawrence University

Rhodes, John. The end of plagues: the global battle against infectious disease. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 235p ISBN 9781137278524, $27.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2014

Covering primarily the early 18th century to the present, immunology/vaccine expert Rhodes (formerly, GlaxoSmithKline) provides a medical history of disease eradication as a result of the discovery of vaccination (for smallpox) and smallpox’s eventual eradication, through development of polio vaccines, and the more recent controversies associated with vaccination. Much of the book addresses the specific stories of smallpox and polio, using some medical jargon. Rounding out the accounts are the social histories associated with some of the major characters: Lady Mary Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and her campaign to introduce variolation to the British homeland; and the competition between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin for development of an effective polio vaccine, with the oft-forgotten Hilary Koprowski thrown into the mix. An extensive bibliography includes reviews as well as primary medical sources. There are a few items with which this reviewer might quibble: the plague of Athens (430 BCE) as described by Thucydides was likely typhoid, not smallpox, and DNA was discovered in 1869, not in 1953 when Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin determined its structure. Overall, this is an excellent read on the subject. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —R. Adler, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Troesken, Werner. The pox of liberty: how the Constitution left Americans rich, free, and prone to infection. Chicago, 2015. 237p index afp ISBN 9780226922171, $40.00; ISBN 9780226922195 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2016

Although Troesken (Univ. of Pittsburgh) is an economist by training, the light that he sheds on the subject of US vaccination policies in The Pox of Liberty is decidedly interdisciplinary.  The result is a fascinating and insightful volume that provides balanced, highly readable analysis about the relationship among the US Constitution, American ideological beliefs about the nature and scope of individual liberty, and sociopolitical public health efforts to eradicate various diseases throughout the history of the country.  Some of the ways in which Troesken weaves constitutionalism into his narrative could have been stronger.  That is, however, a minor criticism because Troesken convincingly achieves his goal of demonstrating that constitutional interpretation is a very useful lens through which to examine governmental policies that addressed diseases like smallpox and yellow fever.  Overall, The Pox of Liberty is an engaging and educational read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections. —H. J. Knowles, SUNY Oswego

Vaccination ethics and policy: an introduction with readings, ed. by Jason L. Schwartz and Arthur L. Caplan. MIT, 2017. 432p bibl index ISBN 9780262035330, $49.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2017

Schwartz (Yale Univ.) and Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics in the Department of Population Health at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, have compiled an impressive review that explores the controversy surrounding vaccination. These readings reflect an extensive examination of the literature, beginning with the history of vaccines and immunization, and a thorough review of problematic issues such as personal autonomy and vaccine safety. These concerns are addressed from many perspectives, including vaccine trials, risk-benefit assessments, and mandatory vaccination. The most debated issue of late has been the connection between vaccines and their role as a possible cause of autism or other disorders. The editors expand the focus of this book beyond disease prevention, including discussion of bioterrorism and vaccination’s role in the protection of the population. Threats from anthrax and biological warfare have unique complications. An anthrax vaccine exists for adults, but the vaccine cannot be tested in children because it might put them at risk. Global issues are equally thorny, with immunization of vulnerable populations requiring the navigation of international infrastructure, funding, and regulations. This book offers a balanced, intelligent review of the controversies that impact community good and provides a detailed introduction and deep dive into a complex subject. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals. —J. Swiatek, UConn Health

Willrich, Michael. Pox: an American history. Penguin Press, 2011. 422p ISBN 9781594202865, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2011

In 1947, over six million New Yorkers were vaccinated against smallpox in only one month. Because of one case in a traveler from Mexico, the millions simply came forward, thanks in part to contemporary media. This stands in sharp contrast to the reactions when smallpox last appeared in New York City during 1901-02. Then, compulsion and police raids were needed to vaccinate the citizenry. Not just a phenomenon in big cities in the US, resistance to vaccination was especially strong in the rural South. Where had the almost forgotten disease come from? Nativists blamed it on recent immigrants; racists, on African Americans; and Main Street, on the poor. Progressives denounced mandatory vaccination as an infringement of their rights. This extraordinary history of threat and reaction explains all this and more, allowing readers to explore the past and to better understand the present. Willrich (history, Brandeis Univ.) also introduces a number of forgotten figures, including the remarkable Charles Wertenbaker, who led the battle against the epidemic in the South. Extensively researched and beautifully written, this book is worthy of the widest readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —I. Richman, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg Campus