cover image The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease

The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease

Meredith Wadman. Viking, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-525-42753-7

Wadman, staff writer for Science, depicts the cutthroat competition, ugly politics, brilliant science, and questionable ethics that underscored the research and development, during the 1960s and ’70s, of vaccines that have protected many millions of Americans from rubella, polio, rabies, and other diseases. She provides an excellent introductory primer on cell biology to complement colorful sketches of the personalities of the pioneering biologists who produced the first live vaccines while challenging scientific tenets and medical ethics. The book is not for the squeamish. Wadman details the surgical and laboratory processes scientists used to develop vaccines, and describes the testing of vaccine prototypes on both children and adults—done mostly without their consent, in orphanages, asylums, schools, and prisons. She also documents the beginnings of the biotechnology industry in the 1980s and the concomitant rise and fall of Leonard Hayflick, who created the crucial WI-38 cell strain and entered into multi-million dollar business agreements before coming under investigation by the National Institutes of Health and getting embroiled in a much-publicized court battle with the U.S. government over ownership of the valuable cells. This is an exemplary piece of medical journalism, and Wadman makes strikingly clear the human costs of medical developments as well as the roles of politics and economics. (Feb.)