As a new book explains, some wrongly fear that vaccination programmes serve only the interests of big pharmaby Manjit Kumar / July 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
Immunization: How Vaccines Became Controversial by Stuart Blume (Reaktion, £25)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that immunisation prevents between two and three million deaths a year. In his thought-provoking book, Stuart Blume, a science historian at the University of Amsterdam, carefully explains how exactly vaccines protect the human body, before going on to explore the worrying phenomenon that has come to be dubbed “vaccine hesitancy”—the reluctance of some parents to have their children vaccinated.
In the past public institutions developed vaccines but now private companies do it for profit. The cost of developing and testing a new vaccine is hundreds of millions of dollars. If the pharmaceutical industry is to recoup these costs, then demand for vaccines has to be created. One successful strategy has been to make people more fearful of risks to their health.
In the past there was never a need to persuade people to fear tuberculosis, cholera, polio or yellow fever because they could see the damage done by those diseases with their own eyes. Spin—even if it’s spin that could save lives—runs into suspicion. Blume looks at how changes in the production of vaccines and the policies in response to the upheavals of the past century have given rise to a loss of faith in vaccination. Fuelled by the suspicion that such programmes serve only the interests of big pharma—by 2025, the global market for vaccines is forecast to be worth $100bn—some wrongly fear that they are being oversold the benefits of vaccination.
But as Blume reminds us it hasn’t always been like this. When Jonas Salk was asked, in 1955, who owned the patent for his polio vaccine, he replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”