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The Cutter Incident: How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 23 March 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:733
  1. Jonathan R Carapetis, director (
  1. Menzies School of Health Research, Casuarina, Northern Territory, Australia

    When I lecture medical students on immunisation, I explain that the antivaccine lobby contains few elderly people because most of them have lived through epidemics of vaccine preventable diseases such as polio or diphtheria. They have seen the devastation that these diseases can cause, and also seen them controlled by immunisation. After reading The Cutter Incident, I marvelled that most older people have maintained their confidence in immunisation despite also living through a massive and highly publicised disaster that left many crippled, and some dead, as a result of vaccine-induced polio.

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    Paul Offit

    Yale University Press, £17.95, pp 240 ISBN 0 300 10864 8

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    Author Paul Offit, a prominent US infectious diseases physician and vaccinologist, has traced the origins of today's “vaccine crisis” to an incident during the 1950s in which thousands of people received polio vaccine containing live polio virus. Offit describes the development of polio vaccine, from trials of early vaccines through to the appearance on the scene of Jonas Salk.

    In 1951 Salk …

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