Synopses & Reviews
With employers offering free flu shots and pharmacies expanding into one-stop shops to prevent everything from shingles to tetanus, vaccines are ubiquitous in contemporary life. The past fifty years have witnessed an enormous upsurge in vaccines and immunization in the United States: American children now receive more vaccines than any previous generation, and laws requiring their immunization against a litany of diseases are standard. Yet, while vaccination rates have soared and cases of preventable infections have plummeted, an increasingly vocal cross section of Americans have questioned the safety and necessity of vaccines. In Vaccine Nation
, Elena Conis explores this complicated history and its consequences for personal and public health.
Vaccine Nation opens in the 1960s, when government scientiststriumphant following successes combating polio and smallpoxconsidered how the country might deploy new vaccines against what they called the milder” diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella. In the years that followed, Conis reveals, vaccines fundamentally changed how medical professionals, policy administrators, and ordinary Americans came to perceive the diseases they were designed to prevent. She brings this history up to the present with an insightful look at the past decades controversy over the implementation of the Gardasil vaccine for HPV, which sparked extensive debate because of its focus on adolescent girls and young women. Through this and other examples, Conis demonstrates how the acceptance of vaccines and vaccination policies has been as contingent on political and social concerns as on scientific findings.
By setting the complex story of American vaccination within the countrys broader history, Vaccine Nation goes beyond the simple story of the triumph of science over disease and provides a new and perceptive account of the role of politics and social forces in medicine.
"In this searching exposÃ©, the recent hysteria over childhood vaccinations and their alleged link to autism be-comes a cautionary tale of bad science amplified by media sensationalism. Journalist Mnookin (Hard News) treats the belief that autism is caused by common vaccines as an epidemic, tracing its origin to a young British doctor's dubious research into Crohn's disease and measles in the early 1990s. This 'panic virus' spread through online communities of parents desperate for answers; fueled by mainstream media, it has created a growing reluctance on the part of parents to vaccinate their children, which, Mnookin warns, results in an increased rate of children dying from preventable infectious diseases. Crucial to this virus's spread was the unwillingness of reporters to parse complex health statistics and their embrace of a populist story line about feisty 'Mercury Moms' challenging a corrupt and covert medical establishment. Mnookin presents a thorough and lucid debunking of the claims of a link between vaccines and autism and the charlatanism and profiteering of those who publicize it. The result is a hard-hitting contribution to the debate and a troubling portrait of a public sphere that elevates intuition and emotion above reason and evidence. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"A brilliant piece of reportage and science writing."
—Michael Shermer, The Wall Street Journal
"The Panic Virus
is sure to attract attention. . . . Mnookin's book is an unsparing brief against the vaccine skeptics. But in a larger sense, this volume is less about the insurrection against inoculations than it is about the democratization of information. . . . Less about the contagion of ideas than about the contagion of misinformation and mistrust that metastasizes in the new technology."
—David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe
“Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus
is a lesson how fear hijacks reason and emotion trumps logic. . . . A brilliant piece of reportage and science writing."
—Michael Shermer, The Wall Street Journal
“With rationality and science under siege these days, Seth Mnookin has produced a riveting and important chronicle of one life-and-death realm in which passionate, panicky belief has dangerously trumped reason—and put millions of children at risk.”
“Seth Mnookin has given us a non-fiction story worthy of Michael Crichton—an absorbing, disturbing and scrupulously researched account of a contagion of human unreason run wild. This time the hysteria was over autism; the next panic virus could be even more dangerous.”
“An accomplished journalist, Seth Mnookin takes an objective look at both sides of the vaccine/autism controversy and lands squarely on the side of science. With humor and wit, The Panic Virus examines the often bizarre events that led some families to become distrustful of science and erroneously conclude that vaccines might cause autism. This book will leave you scratching your head in pure amazement that this issue could get so out of hand when the science is so clear.”
“In plain language, Seth Mnookin provides an excellent narrative and evaluation that helps clarify for readers how and why vaccine controversies have arisen over the years as well as sensible ways for readers to understand the science that supports vaccine usage. Vaccines are the most effective public health measure since clean water.”
“Seth Mnookin understood there was something more to the cruelly misled and dangerously misleading vaccines-cause-autism movement than just an unhappy group of parents with a need to blame someone. He saw the connection between this deathless conspiracy theory and the proliferating irrationality of a society that has supersized its information diet while starving its capacity to think straight. For that reason alone—not to mention the deft, often charming characterizations woven into its skillful and fascinating narrative—this is an important, powerful, and bracing book.”
“This important book should be read by anyone who has a child, cares about public health, or is interested in the state of discourse in 21st-century America. It is a terrific and terrifying call to action.”
—Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
"There have been hundreds of recent outbreaks of ailments like whooping cough and measles that we thought would be eradicated by now—and might have been, if not for the anti-vaccine obfuscation. Bravo Seth Mnookin for digging for the truth and telling eloquent stories of what happens when lies, half-truths and self-interest collide with fear."
"Mr. Mnookin's passionate defense of vaccination may be just what the public needs, in equal parts because of what it says and because of who is saying it. . . . Parents who want to play it safe, but are not altogether sure how, should turn with relief to this reasoned, logical and comprehensive analysis of the facts."
“This is a fascinating account of how routine childhood immunization came to be both a public health success story and a source of bitter controversy. Conis untangles these seemingly contradictory trends and provides a probing analysis of the ways that American culture and politics have influenced how we think about vaccines. Engagingly written and filled with surprising insights, this book is an invaluable guide to one of the most critically important areas of modern medicine. Everyone with a stake in our immunization system—which is to say, all of us—should care about the story Conis has to tell.”
“An original and illuminating analysis of the relationship of vaccination, public health, and American society since 1960. Vaccine Nation is especially strong on the vaccine policies of presidential administrations and on the relationship between vaccine politics and social movements such as environmentalism and feminism. Conis's clear and lively writing style makes the book a pleasure to read.”
“This comprehensive social history of childhood vaccination in the United States since the 1960s is written in clear, engaging, and always intelligent prose. As Conis wends her way through a field notorious for partisan pleading and other intellectual landmines, she convinces us of both the power of vaccination to save us from disease and the sincerity of the often well-intentioned people who question its adherents tendency to oversell their product.”
“In the 1960s afterglow of broad success in defeating polio and smallpox, the US public embraced vaccination. Yet by 2009, debate was raging over its risks, even as some 90% of toddlers were being vaccinated against a raft of diseases. Historian Elena Conis analyses the shifts in official and public thinking on immunization as initiatives by presidents from John F. Kennedy onwards drove waves of mass vaccination. As she reveals, each new vaccine has prompted a radical reevaluation of the disease it targeted.”
“No book on vaccination can ignore the rise of vaccine-safety and anti-vaccination movements. Conis brings out their complexities in the United States with great skill. . . . This is a fine social history of an ongoing story.”
“Conis has produced a strikingly honest, fair-minded, and informed chronicle of the vaccine controversy in the United States. She illuminates issues that others have obfuscated, and she opens up discussions that some have tried to shut down. She understands that vaccine policy is determined not solely by objective science, but also by politics, profits, prejudices, and bureaucratic imperatives. . . . Conis provides that historical context in rich and illuminating detail, and in crystal clear prose that any lay reader can follow.”
“How do some people in a country that rejoiced in vaccines for killers like polio wind up wary of them? Emory University historian Elena Conis goes sleuthing in her book, Vaccine Nation: America's Changing Relationship with Immunization, finding answers in science, politics, and shifting cultural standards about how we vaccinate and what our doubts are. At a moment when, as Conis says, children’s participation in public life depends on their immunization status, she favors a nuanced view of our complicated relationship with ‘the jab.’”
“With Vaccine Nation, Conis explores the history of vaccines in our country, exploring the many reasons (medical, societal, political, financial) why their use has become so widespread. Conis also spends a fair amount of time discussing the many legitimate reasons why people from all walks of life are sometimes skeptical of vaccines, covering heavy metals in the ingredient lists, safety concerns over testing, and vaccine injuries. With its extensive list of sources, Vaccine Nation is a surprisingly balanced history of this controversial topic.”
“Conis presents a detailed, step-by-step historical account, beginning in the 1960s, based on an extensive literature review of all the events. This includes social, economic, political, and commercial aspects as well as issues such as poverty, sex, government, drug companies, the women’s movement, society’s perception of disease, and more. These all contributed to the still-current controversy over the safety and medical value of vaccination, which started with the introduction of the polio vaccine. . . . Highly recommended.”
A searing account of how vaccine opponents have used the media to spread their message of panic, despite no scientific evidence to support them.
WHO DECIDES WHICH FACTS ARE TRUE?
In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist with a history of self-promotion, published a paper with a shocking allegation: the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine might cause autism. The media seized hold of the story and, in the process, helped to launch one of the most devastating health scares ever. In the years to come Wakefield would be revealed as a profiteer in league with class-action lawyers, and he would eventually lose his medical license. Meanwhile one study after another failed to find any link between childhood vaccines and autism.
Yet the myth that vaccines somehow cause developmental disorders lives on. Despite the lack of corroborating evidence, it has been popularized by media personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jenny McCarthy and legitimized by journalists who claim that they are just being fair to “both sides” of an issue about which there is little debate. Meanwhile millions of dollars have been diverted from potential breakthroughs in autism research, families have spent their savings on ineffective “miracle cures,” and declining vaccination rates have led to outbreaks of deadly illnesses like Hib, measles, and whooping cough. Most tragic of all is the increasing number of children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.
In The Panic Virus Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The fascinating answer helps explain everything from the persistence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 to the appeal of talk-show hosts who demand that President Obama “prove” he was born in America.
The Panic Virus is a riveting and sometimes heart-breaking medical detective story that explores the limits of rational thought. It is the ultimate cautionary tale for our time.
Mnookin presents a searing account of how vaccine opponents have used the media to spread their message of panic, despite no scientific evidence to support their fears.
tells the recent history of how and why vaccines became such a prized but polemical part of American health care, politics, and culture. In the sixties, American children began to receive more vaccines than any previous generation, and laws requiring their immunization against a litany of diseases became common. In the decades that followed, vaccination rates soared, preventable infections plummeted, and popular acceptance of vaccines remained strongeven as an increasingly vocal cross-section of Americans questioned the safety and necessity of vaccines and the wisdom of related policies. Vaccine Nation
examines the origins of some of todays most salient sources of vaccine skepticism. It describes how and why presidents from JFK to Clinton championed childhood vaccination from the White House. And it reveals that new vaccines fundamentally changed the ways health experts and lay Americans perceived the diseases they were designed to prevent. Chapters in the book examine how and why we vaccinate against specific infectionsincluding measles, mumps, hepatitis B, and HPVand how social movements of the late twentieth century posed profound, but previously overlooked, implications for how Americans today have come to think about vaccination and vaccines.
About the Author
Seth Mnookin is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former senior writer for Newsweek, where he covered media, politics, and popular culture. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, and many other publications. He is the author of The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear; Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top and Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
1. Kennedys Vaccination Assistance Act
2. Polio, Measles, and the Dirty Disease Gang”
3. How Serious Is Mumps?
4. Carters Childhood Immunization Initiative
5. A Mothers Responsibility
6. Tampering with Nature
7. Clintons Vaccines for Children Program
8. Sex, Drugs, and Hepatitis B
9. Vaccine Risks and the New Media
10. Sex, Girls, and HPV
Appendix: The Science and Regulation of Vaccines
Review A Day
"The news in 1998 was as startling as the jab of a needle: Dr. Andrew Wakefield, in new study in the influential medical journal The Lancet, had made a connection between MMR vaccination and the onset of autism.
'My concerns,' he announced dramatically at a London press conference, 'are that one more case of this is too many.'
There was something to be concerned about, all right. Recently, the British Medical Journal
found that Wakefield, who had undisclosed financial interests in discrediting the MMR vaccine, had forged patient records to get his results."
Paul Collins, The Oregonian
(Read the entire Oregonian review