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The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis [Paperback]

Paul A. Offit

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Book Description

Sept. 28 2007
Vaccines have saved more lives than any other single medical advance. Yet today only four companies make vaccines, and there is a growing crisis in vaccine availability. Why has this happened? This remarkable book recounts for the first time a devastating episode in 1955 at Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California, thathas led many pharmaceutical companies to abandon vaccine manufacture.

Drawing on interviews with public health officials, pharmaceutical company executives, attorneys, Cutter employees, and victims of the vaccine, as well as on previously unavailable archives, Dr. Paul Offit offers a full account of the Cutter disaster. He describes the nation’s relief when the polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk in 1955, the production of the vaccine at industrial facilities such as the one operated by Cutter, and the tragedy that occurred when 200,000 people were inadvertently injected with live virulent polio virus: 70,000 became ill, 200 were permanently paralyzed, and 10 died. Dr. Offit also explores how, as a consequence of the tragedy, one jury’s verdict set in motion events that eventually suppressed the production of vaccines already licensed and deterred the development of new vaccines that hold the promise of preventing other fatal diseases.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (Sept. 28 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300126050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300126051
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 17 x 1.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #714,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

After a wave of books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, Offit's troubling account is the first to focus on a largely forgotten aspect—one with negative repercussions 50 years later. In a nuanced examination of a complex story, Offit, a professor of pediatrics and expert in infectious diseases, relates how Cutter Laboratories, one of several pharmaceutical companies licensed to produce Salk's killed-virus vaccine, shipped many lots of vaccine containing live virus, creating a mini polio epidemic: 40,000 children became ill, 200 were permanently paralyzed, 10 died. Offit carefully examines how Cutter was and was not responsible: tests for detecting live virus at the time were simply not sensitive enough, but Cutter departed from Salk's safe production protocols. And while the company knew there was a problem, it failed to notify the government's oversight agency. Cutter faced costly lawsuits that have resulted, according to Offit, in today's vaccine crisis: shortages (think of last year's flu vaccine) due to pharmaceutical companies' unwillingness to risk testing and producing vaccines and face possible litigation. In another example of the law of unintended consequences, Offit shows how "the Cutter Incident" led Salk's vaccine to be replaced by a less safe one: Sabin's live-virus vaccine. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Pointing to recent shortages of flu and several childhood-disease vaccines as well as the dearth of new vaccines, Offit says that pharmaceutical companies are staying away from vaccine research and production in droves. He lays responsibility for this lamentable situation on the outcome of a court battle now 50 years old and the subsequent snowballing of legal and legislative reactions. Beginning with a tragic 1955 error at Cutter Laboratories--one of the first companies producing the Salk polio vaccine--that caused polio in thousands, Offit maps the way the courts have handled pharmaceutical liability, the way juries have awarded damages, the federal Vaccines for Children Program and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, and other influences on vaccine development. Those trends and agencies have so inflated the costs and risks relative to probable profits that vaccine production has been discouraged. Offit concludes that, because the U.S. has made risks high and profits negligible, many more children will suffer illnesses that can be prevented. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! Aug. 14 2011
By Quinn Thornton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While some may find this book too 'pro-pharma', I found this book spot-on. The public wants 100% safe, inexpensive, readily available drugs and vaccines. This book explains why this isn't going to happen--at least, not until the trial lawyers are reined in.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story about all the pitfalls of research in the midst of desperation. Jan. 30 2014
By Carleen Lane - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Dr. Offit has excellent books. If you are old enough to remember the abject fear during the polio epidemics, this is the book for you. We have not had a disease attacking people by such large numbers for a long time. It was a race against time and that is why the Cutter Incident happened. Too many people stirring the pot to get a vaccine in a hurry.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational and entertaining July 22 2013
By Ronald Neeleman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is very well written, it explains all scientific jargon to those who don't work in this area without becoming boring for those who do. Furthermore it is written like a detective; very entertaining!

A must read for those who work in the vaccine field, a great book for others
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it June 24 2013
By MSB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Could not put it down. Have read it several times already. Great overview of a tremendous historical race to eradicate polio and what went wrong with it and how this race has shaped pharma, the FDA and US litigation.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to follow March 3 2013
By Wendy Ramos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not surprised why there are a limited of pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines. Starting reading this book after the NECC tragedy. Maybe compounding regulations are too lenient. Great book, definitely recommend.
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