The Vaccine Race

How scientists used human cells to combat killer viruses

By Meredith Wadman

Medical Ethics, Immunology, Popular Science


Published by Transworld/Doubleday

Shortlist 2018

The epic and controversial story of the major scientific breakthrough that led to the creation of some of the world’s most important vaccines.

Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of 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 produced the first safe, clean cells that made possible the mass production of vaccines against many common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would go on to effectively wipe out rubella in many countries.

This vaccine and others made with those cells have since protected hundreds of millions of people worldwide, the vast majority of them preschool children. Meredith Wadman’s account of this great leap forward in medicine is a fascinating and revelatory read.

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