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  • Published: 2 April 2018
  • ISBN: 9781784160135
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 624
  • RRP: $24.99

The Vaccine Race

How Scientists Used Human Cells to Combat Killer Viruses




'Riveting . invites comparison to Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.

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 foetuses. 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 one day effectively wipe out rubella for good.

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.

  • Published: 2 April 2018
  • ISBN: 9781784160135
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 624
  • RRP: $24.99

About the author

Meredith Wadman

Meredith Wadman, MD, has a long profile as a medical reporter and has covered biomedical research politics from Washington, DC, for twenty years. She has written for Nature, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Stanford University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she began medical school at the University of British Columbia and completed medical school as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. She is an Editorial Fellow at New America, a DC think tank.

Praise for The Vaccine Race

It is a thriller - a beautifully researched and paced thriller - and is destined to be a classic piece of science writing in its navigation of the nexus of personality, research and ethics.

Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with the Amber Eyes

An extraordinary story and Wadman is to be congratulated, not just for uncovering it but for relaying it in such a pacy, stimulating manner. This is a first-class piece of science writing'

Robin McKie, Observer

Extraordinary...The Vaccine Race is a tremendous feat of research and synthesis, its lucid technical explanations combined with forays into the business politics of big pharma, and portraits of the scientists whose work has saved untold lives.

Steven Poole, Daily Telegraph

Marvellous…fascinating…Wadman doesn’t shy away from some very difficult and unpleasant truths…The Vaccine Race bears comparison with Richard Rhodes’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I can pay no higher compliment to Meredith Wadman and her fine book

Manjit Kumar, The Literary Review

Wadman's brilliantly researched book unfolds like a thriller, but asks some tough ethical questions along the way.

Sophie Ratcliffe, Associate Professor of English Literature, Oxford University

A riveting tale of scientific infighting, clashing personalities, sketchy ethics and the transformation of cell biology from a sleepy scientific backwater to a high-stakes arena where vast fortunes are made.

Wall Street Journal

Riveting... invites comparison to Rebecca Skloot's 2007 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks... Wadman stands back from the sources and material to guide the reader through a narrative that is no less captivating.


Epically readable - superb

Chris van Tulleken

Meticulously researched... a success story for grown-ups... plenty of ammunition for those arguing with family or Facebook friends who have swallowed the conspiracy theories of the anti-vaccination community

Sheena Cruickshank, New Scientist

Superb ... It is a tale – told with pace and authority – of theft, evasion, deceit and obdurate overregulation

Robin McKie, Observer, Books of the Year

Meticulously researched and carefully crafted . . . The Vaccine Race, is an enlightening telling of the development of vaccines in the mid-20th century. . . . an intelligent and entertaining tome . . . [and] a comprehensive portrait of the many issues faced in the race to develop vaccines.


Explains complex science in methodical detail.

Mail on Sunday

Excellent... an important story, well told

The Scotsman

The Vaccine Race is an important read—for scientists, politicians, physicians, parents and everyone interested in how the world of medical research works... it is so important to read this book, to see how science works and how politics can and does interfere with what science does best and what is best for us.

Huffington Post

An exemplary piece of medical journalism, and Wadman makes strikingly clear the human costs of medical developments as well as the roles of politics and economics.

Publishers Weekly

Wadman does a superb job of making the technical comprehensible to the lay reader and, more importantly, makes the science come to life by honing in on the brilliant men and women who were driven to create new, life-saving vaccines... While the science is fascinating, the foibles of the main characters are what keep the reader gripped

Globe and Mail

This is a story about the war against disease - a war without end - and the development of enormously important vaccines, but in telling that story, in showing how science works, Meredith Wadman reveals much more. Like all wars, that story includes heroism, risk-taking, persistence and fighting against the odds, and, like all wars, that story also includes politics, obtuseness, bureaucracy, and fights over money. It's very well-written and does not oversimplify yet explains clearly even the purely scientific parts of the story. In short, I loved this book.

</i>John M. Barry, <i>New York Times </i>bestselling author of <i>The Great Influenza

Reads like a good detective novel... Wadman’s great strength, in the end, is her uncanny ability to weave the multiple strands of a complicated story into a coherent narrative.

David Oshinsky, author of the Pulizer-prize-winning Polio - An American Story

Rivalries and shenanigans abound in Wadman’s complex story... An important story well told

Kirkus Reviews

Wadman tells the inspiring, and sometimes murky, story of the battle to protect the world from viral disease.

Daily Mail

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