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The Vaccine Narrative

Jacob Heller

Publication Year: 2008

The Salk vaccine seemed like a miracle to parents whose children were threatened with the scourge of polio. With its protection from polio, came also a story line-there were heroic researchers who would use science to protect us from epidemics and perhaps even eradicate disease. For most people, vaccines have become the magic bullets for dealing with dangerous diseases. The continuing quest for new vaccines, including an HIV/AIDS vaccine, despite technical, epidemiological, and social obstacles, suggests the abiding power of this narrative.

The author examines four cases that span the twentieth century--diphtheria, rubella, pertussis, and HIV/AIDS. Each case challenges the reader to examine how the values we attribute to vaccines influence their use. Diphtheria vaccination brought laboratory science into an existing narrative based on earlier vaccines. With rubella vaccine, researchers efficiently responded to an epidemic of birth defects while subtly changing the relationship between vaccination recipients and beneficiaries. Opposition to pertussis vaccine from average Americans created a narrative crisis, in which faith in vaccination as a whole seemed to be at risk. With more recent vaccines, including a hoped-for HIV/AIDS vaccine, the persistent cultural narrative continues to encourage vaccine development and use.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book began as an idea shared in a research workshop at Stony Brook University with Mandy Frisken, Lisa Handler, Anna Linders, and Diane Samuels. Since then, it has undergone numerous incarnations. ...

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pp. 1-30

Vaccines have been part of Western medicine and public health for more than two hundred years. They have become more than just a way to stay healthy: they have become a metaphor for protection and a cultural story that transcends social divides. ...

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1. Diphtheria Toxin-Antitoxin: The Birth of the Modern Narrative

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pp. 31-56

Perhaps the most feared disease of the nineteenth century was cholera. A gruesome disease that killed quickly, horribly, and randomly, without any seeming rationale, cholera was immortalized in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice as a way to show the depth of love for beauty and truth. ...

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2. Rubella (German Measles): The “Cultural Provenance” of Vaccination

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pp. 57-83

Beginning in the spring of 1964 and continuing into 1965, the United States experienced its largest recorded rubella epidemic.1 First on the east coast, and then several months later in the far west and Hawaii, American doctors began reporting high numbers of children born deaf or with vision problems. ...

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3. Pertussis Vaccine: Resisting the Narrative

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pp. 84-111

In April of 1982, the NBC television affiliate in Washington, D.C., broadcast an hour-long report called “DPT: Vaccine Roulette.” It laid out a disturbing and to all appearances well-researched story about safety problems with pertussis vaccine. Organized like many other in-depth television reports on urgent social problems, ...

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4. HIV/AIDS Vaccine Research: Science and Ethics Confront the Narrative

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pp. 112-142

Americans came out of the 1960s and 1970s with a new complacence about their relationship to disease. Between antibiotics for bacterial infections and vaccines to protect against viruses, people supposed with good reason that dangerous infectious disease had been relegated to the history books (Sontag 1989). ...

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pp. 143-156

In early October of 2004, concerns about contamination led the British government to shut down Chiron Corporation’s production facility in the United Kingdom that made flu vaccines for the United States. Suddenly and unexpectedly, it looked as if the United States would have many fewer doses of the vaccine than anticipated, ...


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pp. 157-164


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pp. 165-198


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780826592415
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826515902

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008