Human beings have benefited from vaccines for more than two centuries. Yet the pathway to effective vaccines has been neither neat nor direct. This paper explores the history of vaccines and immunization, beginning with Edward Jenner’s creation of the world’s first vaccine for smallpox in the 1790s. We then demonstrate that many of the issues salient in Jenner’s era—such as the need for secure funding mechanisms, streamlined manufacturing and safety concerns, and deep-seated public fears of inoculating agents—have frequently reappeared and have often dominated vaccine policies. We suggest that historical awareness can help inform viable long-term solutions to contemporary problems with vaccine research, production, and supply.
Vaccines are one of the most controversial medical therapies, and it's impossible to make an informed decision unless you know both sides of the story. In the process of knowing both sides, the historical context is critical.
Dr. Suzanne Humphries, author of Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and the Forgotten History, is a nephrologist who has committed the latter part of her medical career to exposing the “lost history” of vaccinations.
Barbara Loe Fisher of NVIC commented that this is one of the rare books that conducted in-depth research documenting the medical history related to mass vaccination programs and infectious diseases.
Why This Book Was Written
Dr. Humphries' interest in this area began in 2009, when several of her patients told her that they'd been perfectly healthy until they got one vaccine or another. Prior to this, she'd been, as she says, “agnostic” about vaccination.
“I had vaccinated my dialysis patients; I, myself, was vaccinated; and …
Nevertheless, the story is more complicated than it might appear at first glance. Even as existing vaccines continue to exert their immunological power and new vaccines offer similar hopes, reemerging and newly emerging infectious diseases threaten the dramatic progress made. Furthermore, obstacles have long stood in the way of the production of safe and effective vaccines. The historical record shows that the development of vaccines has consistently involved sizable doses of ingenuity, political skill, and irreproachable scientific methods. When one or more of these has been lacking or perceived to be lacking, vaccination has engendered responses ranging from a revised experimental approach in the laboratory to a supply shortage and even insurrection in the streets. In short, vaccines are powerful medical interventions that induce powerful biological, social, and cultural reactions.
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