A history and analysis of the tragic 1955 American pharmaceutical disaster involving one company’s polio vaccine.
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, that has 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, because 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.
Praise for The Cutter Incident
“Offit . . . has written a fascinating and highly readable account of the development of the polio vaccine. He also offers a compelling plea for a strengthened law to provide relief to companies that produce vaccines so that our nation may be afforded the most cost-effective and long-lasting form of prevention against many infectious diseases—an effective vaccine.” —Stanley Goldfarb, New York Post
“The best account you will ever read about the interplay between big drug companies and bigger government.” —Peter Huber, Forbes
“The book is very well written and reads almost like a detective story, with a nice balance between personal anecdotes and new materials not discussed in other accounts of the Cutter incident. It draws on meticulous archival documentation and on interviews with public health officers, pharmaceutical company executives, Cutter employees, and victims of the partially inactivated vaccine. . . . An important and valuable contribution.” —Nadav Davidovitch, Isis
“Well written and easily understood, yet balanced with enough technical detail for medical professionals to read informatively cover to cover.” —Journal of the American Medical Association