"Complacency is the enemy of vaccination"

Author Meredith Wadman on history's untold "Vaccine Race"

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published February 13, 2017 1:00PM (EST)

Although  most medical institutions around the world agree on the safety and efficacy of approved vaccines, concerns regarding them remain. In researching her new book "The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease," author Meredith Wadman delved into the sixties era quest to create a vaccine for rubella —  a seemingly benign virus that can lead to deadly fetal consequences when it appears  in pregnant women.

"There have definitely been vaccine accidents throughout the last hundred years that have not ended well for people who have been vaccinated," she says. But she adds, "Today, we have much more stringent safeguards before any vaccine can be put in any population…. Patients [are] really more participants in the research process rather than objects of it."

Though Wadman reminds that "There is no absolute fail safe," she says that "What you have on the other side of the equation is the undoubted large numbers of lives saved and sickness averted through the prevention of these diseases." And because so many contagious diseases that plagued previous generations have been all but  wiped out, she says "Vaccines are becoming a victim of their own success. We don't see these diseases so we don't fear them." Yet that's exactly why we still need them, because "Complacency is the big enemy against vaccination."

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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