Spanning over 400 pages and telling the story from 1721 to the present day, Vaccine is a work of great scope. It starts out with the smallpox epidemic in Boston, Cotton Mather, and newfangled “variolation”, then proceeds to the 1940’s and 50’s issues with polio and measles, and rounds out the tale with the controversial DTP vaccine, a discussion of the alleged link between vaccines and autism, and an entire chapter devoted to anti vaccinators, those who would see their children suffer and die a horrible death from whooping cough and other childhood sicknesses.
Blending science, mystery, drama, and politics, this book has something for everyone. Fun fact: the beloved Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls were created by a well known illustrator, Johnny Gruelle, after his daughter Marcella was supposedly sickened by a vaccine given at school without his permission. The book tells that “The doll, with its limp limbs, became a symbol of vaccine-damaged children, and Marcella was the heroine of the Raggedy Ann stories that Gruelle went on to illustrate.”
Another fun fact: During the frantic search for the flu vaccine in 2004, there was also a pertussis (Whooping Cough) epidemic quietly making the rounds, with more than 19,000 cases that year. There were only 11,647 in 2003.
Anti vaccinators would storm the Internet looking for like minded souls and then get together to protest the government’s forced vaccination requirements for school children. In a ludicrous-sounding passage, a mother tells the author that it is good when her children get ill, because then everyone can take the time to slow down and spend time together. The book then goes on to tell how one child spent 6 months coughing, for most of the day and night, with spells of alternating vomiting and coughing from his illness. Another child broke a rib coughing; and a woman had to be hospitalized because she was in danger of losing her unborn child (her cervix was being nearly ruptured from the hacking.
The descriptions of the illnesses are detailed but not gory, and as you read you will find yourself thinking a lot more about the simple “shots” we all got as a kid.
At times a bit long winded, and necessarily full of politics, Vaccine was interesting but not enthralling. I didn’t feel it was a waste of my time, because I learned a great deal, and in the end I was glad my parents took me to the doctor and protected me. Whether you are for or against vaccines, you should read this book.