cover image On Immunity: An Inoculation

On Immunity: An Inoculation

Eula Biss. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $24 (216p) ISBN 978-1-55597-689-7

Biss (Notes from No Man’s Land) advocates eloquently for childhood immunization, making her case as an anxious new mother intent on protecting her son—and understanding the consequences. Her exploration is both historical and emotional, and she receives some metaphorical guidance from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a story that to Biss invites an “enduring question—do we believe vaccination to be more monstrous than disease?” Her son’s birth coincided with an outbreak of the H1N1 flu (popularly known as “swine flu”), triggering an inquiry that involved her doctor father, other mothers, researchers, and her own copious research. Biss’s study ranges from the beginnings of vaccination—a “precursor to modern medicine”—in the 1700s, through Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous, and later retracted, 1998 study that proposed the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism. Protecting her baby set off an “intuitive toxicology,” Biss writes, but grew to understand that we harbor “more microorganisms in our guts than we have cells in our bodies.” She comes down hard on Robert Sears, author of The Vaccine Book, which suggests an alternate shots schedule, for his “equivocal” conclusions, and defends oft-criticized pediatrician Paul Offit for his research and integrity. Biss frankly and optimistically looks at our “unkempt” world and our shared mission to protect one another. Agent: Matt McGowan, Frances Goldin Literary Agency. (Oct.)