Monday, June 25, 2007

"Vaccinated" (and thankful)

Today, while at his annual well child check-up, my five-year-old received three vaccinations. Because of these shots, he will never know the itchy, burning feel of chicken pox in his throat. He will never experience the disabling affects of polio. He won't lose a day of school due to measles or mumps. And because of a compelling read by Paul Offit, I know exactly who to thank for this.

"Vaccinated" tells the inspiring story of Maurice Hilleman -- a humble man who grew up in a Montana farming community. Hilleman's tough childhood shaped him into the driven and determined man who not only discovered several vaccines, but improved upon a myriad of existing ones. (Hilleman is also the first person to invent a cancer vaccine as well as purify, characterize, and produce a drug now used in cancer treatment.)

Offit's extensively-researched tome also gives great insight into the history of vaccines. For example, although biologist Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin in the 1929, he was unable to purify the substance. At the start of the second world war, Howard Florey picked up where Flemming left off not only purifying but figuring out how to mass produce the product.

As doctor and author of three other books, (The Cutter Incident, Vaccines: What You Should Know, and Breaking the Antibiotic Habit) Offit chose a fascinating topic. The book is rich with compelling facts. I liked the way the book was organized and the way he presented his information. I also liked his writing style. He doesn't offend readers by "dumbing down" the information. But he does present the information in a way a lay person can understand.

Offit is also not afraid to present the darker side of vaccine discovery. Newly discovered vaccines always needed test subjects. For a period of time, those test subjects were institutionalized mentally retarded people or even children from poor countries. Often times, if a researcher fully believed in his work, the serum's were administered to their own children and even coworkers. Offit admits -- sometimes the vaccines worked. Sometimes they didn't. Sometimes the serum's side effects were so toxic, they caused problems that were worse than the actual illness.

And yes, "Vaccinated" addresses the controversy that ensued when Andrew Wakefield, a London doctor, alarmed the world with his "findings" that the MMR vaccine caused autism due to mercury levels. (Offit refutes Wakefield's concerns.)

Offit made a point at the end of the book that really hit home for me. When vaccines work, nothing happens. People take them for granted. And he's right.

When the author mentioned a new vaccine for rotovirus, I had a flashback of my son at 20-months laying on the couch too weak to move and too sick to even care. For five days, he couldn't even keep down a few swallows of water. He lost more than six pounds in a 12-day period. My husband was out of town. I was alone and overwhelmed with fear for my little boy. I'm grateful that now other children won't have to endure such misery. And many parents won't have to either.

This review was written for The Parent Bloggers Network. If you have a product you'd like PBN to review, click on this link for more info.


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