Of Legends and Science: The Making of a Vaccine

By Christine Cupaiuolo — September 1, 2006

Having read and watched so many news stories earlier this summer on the “debate” over whether a newly developed vaccine that prevents cervical cancer should be made available to pre-teen girls (a debate that exists mainly among right-wing conservatives who mistakenly think protection from sexually transmitted diseases encourages sexual promiscuity), I wasn’t necessarily looking for more coverage.

But this story in The New York Times Science section got my attention – and I’m glad it did. “How a Vaccine Search Ended in Triumph” is a fascinating look at the long, bumpy road that led to the vaccine in the first place. Donald G. McNeil writes:

Nuns and Jews, cow warts and rabbit horns.

The common link: they were all crucial elements in the search for the world’s newest vaccine.

There are fascinating stories behind every advance in medicine, be it hand washing or brain surgery. But the 70-year history behind the creation of a vaccine against human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, is more fraught than most with blind alleys, delicate moments, humor and triumph.

Read the rest here.

Plus: The vaccine is back in the news again this week — but this time it’s because it’s difficult to find and not yet covered by many insurance companies. One Chicago pediatrician told the AP that patients and parents “have been asking about this like no other vaccine that I can recall.” Now that sounds promising.

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