There is a month for everything it seems. And August is the month for Immunizations Awareness.The perfect time to write the review of a book I received* months ago.
Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases by Paul A. Offit, M.D
I began reading this book thinking that it was going to be dry, something I would suffer through like a text book. While I thought it would be interesting I could not see how it could be an engaging story. Turns out I was wrong. I loved this book.
From the Prologue:
But I’d bet not one of you knows the name of the scientist who saved more lives than all other scientists combined–a man who survived Depression era poverty; the harsh, unforgiving plains of southeastern Montana; abandonment by his father; the early death of his mother; and, at the end of his life, the sad realization that few people knew who he was or what he had done: Maurice Hillman, the father of modern vaccines.
Paul Offit was able to sit down with Maurice Hillman before his death in 2005 and discuss his life and his work. Those conversations eventually became this book.
It is a fascinating read… the use of chicken eggs to grow the virus that would eventually be turned into a vaccine; how Hillman used swabs from the throat of his daughter to develop the vaccine against mumps; the common practice of using institutionalized children with mental retardation to test the vaccines and the ethics involved in it.
Did you know that the pneumococcal vaccine protects against twenty three different infections? No? Me either, until I read this book. It was the first bacterial vaccination with the Hib vaccine following close on it’s heels.
The development of bacterial vaccines came just in time. The widespread use of a variety of different antibiotics has caused many bacteria, including pneumococcus, to become resistant to them. Unfortunately, pharmeceutical companies no longer devote much energy to making antibiotics. Vaccines may eventually stand alone as our last chance to fight bacterial infections.
The book spends a chapter discussing the claims that vaccines have caused autism and does a good job of delving into original source of the claims a Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and showing how he had changed data and mislead the public. Whether his observations have any truth in them is not for me to decide, but the fact that he was not completely honest and open with his study, changed data, and omitted data, does not inspire confidence in the study as a whole.
Unfortunately once this information was put out there there is no way to take it back, to make people stop believing it. It is human nature to want to have something to blame.
I never really discuss my own stance on childhood immunizations in an online forum. Mostly because I don’t want to be responsible for swaying anyone with my opinions. We do all the immunizations, but we delay them until after age two. And then we do them one at a time. Yes, it does take forever and require multiple trips (an co-pays). So why do I do it this way?
I have two children who had the severe reactions to their immunizations. You know the kind they tell you there is only a slight chance can ever happen? Yup, we got lucky twice. Interestingly, both of these children have ADHD which is a neurological condition on the same spectrum as autism. Did the vaccine cause this? Hell no. I can say it without a shadow of a doubt. They were both colicky babies. They were both extremely high maintenance before they ever had vaccines.
Here is what I think, an my pediatrician– who fully supports my decision to delay all vaccinations–thinks it is probably valid, children who already have neurological issues can react to a vaccine in a non typical way. But, I am not a doctor, or a researcher, as much as I like to pretend that I am. So my opinion is worth what you paid for it.
This book is not only a biography of Maurice Hillman, but also the history of immunizations.
The second half of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion in vaccine research and development, with vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, rubella (german measles), chicken pox, hepatitis a, hepatitis B, pneumococcus, meningococcus, and Hib. Before these vaccines were made, Americans could expect that every year measles wuld cause severe, fatal pneumonia; rubella would attack unborn babies, causing them to go blind or deaf or become mentally retarded; and Hib would infect the brain and spinal cord, killing or disabling thousands of young children. These nine vaccines virtually eliminated all of this suffering and disability and death. And Maurice Hillman made every one of them.
I was talking to my mother recently about childhood diseases. She grew up during the Depression and at a time when children routinely died or were disabled from diseases. She clearly remembers when both she and her brother had Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Her brother was much worse off and at the height of the illness he was not expected too make it through the night.
I had heard these stories before but since I was a child I identified with the roles of the sick child in the story. Now I put myself in the place of her mother. How that must have felt to stay up all night staring at your child. At a time when you couldn’t go to the hospital, were quarantined in your house, isolated and alone. Her father had left the house as soon as the children had shown signs of being sick. He couldn’t risk being quarantined with the family. He had to go to work.
Turns out Denise has blogged about this very same topic over BlogHer. If it interests you, you might want to head on over and check out the links she has on the the topic of immunization.
*I do not accept any monetary compensation for any book reviews that I write. The only thing I receive is the book. Because it is not yet possible to read a book telepathically.