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

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VACCINE RACE

“A real jewel of science history…brims with suspense and now-forgotten catastrophe and intrigue…Wadman’s smooth prose calmly spins a surpassingly complicated story into a real tour de force.”—The New York Times

“Riveting . . . [The Vaccine Race] invites comparison with Rebecca Skloot’s 2007 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”—Nature 

The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.

 
Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.

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