Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver
Author Arthur Allen
Country United States
Language English
Subject Vaccines, vaccine controversies
Genre Nonfiction
Publisher W.W. Norton & Company
Publication date
January 15, 2007
Pages 512
ISBN 0393059111

Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver is a 2007 book by freelance writer Arthur Allen. The book describes the history of vaccination, beginning in 1796 when it was discovered by Edward Jenner, and including mandatory vaccination policies during World War II in the United States military. It ends on a discussion of the vaccine-autism controversy.


The book begins by describing how George W. Bush received the smallpox vaccine in 2002, given that it was thought, by Bush and his aides, that enemies of the US government, particularly Saddam Hussein, might possess the virus. It then describes how this vaccine was only slightly different from the type invented by Edward Jenner two centuries earlier, which was so successful that smallpox became the first and only disease to ever be eradicated. Vaccine developers profiled in the book include Jonas Salk (p. 188) and Maurice Hilleman (p. 238). Allen, later in the book, describes the controversy over vaccines and autism and the founding of SafeMinds, writing, "The vaccines-cause-autism mindset was the product of a set of assumptions that were impossible to completely prove or disprove." (p. 374) It also discusses how preliminary study results by Thomas Verstraeten which showed that thimerosal might increase children's risk of neurodevelopmental delays were flawed, and how these results were discussed at the 2000 Simpsonwood CDC conference. (p. 404)


It received positive reviews from the New York Times,[1] and was also praised by Seth Mnookin, who wrote, "Arthur is a wonderful writer. He covers the huge sweep of the story – he goes back to variolation and Edward Jenner and then takes it all the way through the development of vaccines, the nationalization of vaccine programmes, various social pressures, up to some of the more recent controversies." It also received a positive review in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, where Michael Fitzpatrick wrote that Allen "does not ignore the history of vaccine disasters. He includes the fiasco in the US military in 1942, when yellow fever vaccine contaminated with hepatitis B caused 100 deaths, and the mass vaccination against smallpox in New York in 1947 that caused six deaths (four more than the outbreak itself). In the Cutter incident in the 1950s, inadequately inactivated polio vaccine caused 164 cases of paralysis and 10 deaths. While acknowledging these failures, Allen pays tribute to immunization authorities—such as Henry Kempe and Bob Chen—who have campaigned to improve vaccine safety."[2] Another review appeared in the Guardian, where Mark Honigsbaum wrote that "One of the joys of reading Allen's well-researched but never boring 500-page history is that he pricks both camps, taking a critical look at both the anti-vaccinists' championing of pseudo-science and the medical establishment's repeated tendency to downplay the genuine dangers of vaccine side-effects."[3] It was also reviewed in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, where William A. Paxton wrote that it was "a timely and heavily researched book that intelligently and thoughtfully takes the reader through the fusion of the above factors [i.e. the history of vaccine development]."[4] Another review appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by Samuel L. Katz of Duke University's Medical School. Katz stated, "...I found his [Allen's] writing well balanced, and he includes more information about opponents of vaccines than one usually finds in similar sources."[5] In addition, Rebecca Skloot of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that, until Allen's book was published, "no book had so carefully and clearly catalogued the history of immunization."[6]

Arthur Allen[edit]

Arthur Allen (born 1959) is an author and blogger from Washington, DC. He appeared, billed as the author of this book, in the "vaccinations" episode of Penn and Teller's: Bullshit! A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in development studies, he formerly worked as a foreign correspondent before returning to the US in 1995.[7] His interest in vaccine reporting was sparked when his son was born in 1996, and around that time, he "noticed that they were changing the pertussis vaccine. And since I had always thought that vaccines were something sort of immutable or like bread or mother's milk, I had never sort of thought that they ever changed, or that the old one might have been considered less safe."[8] Other topics Allen has written books about include tomatoes, the subject of a book he wrote in 2010 entitled "Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato".


  1. ^ Oshinsky, David (February 4, 2007). "Preventive Medicine". New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  2. ^ Fitzpatrick, Michael (May 2007). "Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 100 (5): 241. doi:10.1258/jrsm.100.5.241. PMC 1861410Freely accessible. 
  3. ^ Honigsbaum, Mark (May 4, 2007). "A jab in the right direction". The Guardian. Retrieved August 26, 2013. 
  4. ^ Paxton, W. A. (2007). "Vaccine the controversial story of medicine's greatest lifesaver". Journal of Clinical Investigation. 117 (8): 2017–2017. doi:10.1172/JCI32934. 
  5. ^ Katz, S. L. (2007). "Book Review Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen. 523 pp., illustrated. New York, W.W. Norton, 2007. $27.95. 978-0-393-05911-3". New England Journal of Medicine. 357 (6): 628. doi:10.1056/NEJMbkrev58301. 
  6. ^ Skloot, Rebecca (January 1, 2007). "Under the Skin: A History of the Vaccine Debate Goes Deep but Misses the Drama". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved October 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Arthur Allen". Huffington Post. Retrieved September 20, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Sound Advice (An interview with Arthur Allen)" (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. June 2009. Retrieved August 10, 2013.