Published November 5, 2016
One of my favorite movie scenes is from “Die Hard 2” when Bruce Willis, in the character of Lt. John...
— William Wilberforce
One of my favorite movie scenes is from “Die Hard 2” when Bruce Willis, in the character of Lt. John McClane, is in a race against terrorists to save his wife who is on a plane approaching to land. As he is waiting frantically for a fax to come through so he can rescue the day, the young and seductive counter clerk begins flirting with him when he shows her his wedding band and famously says with impatience, “Just the fax, ma’m. Just the fax.”
You can flirt with all the big books, the pretty books, and the complicated scientific books, but if you want a book that gets straight to the point without a lot of foo-foo, Elliott Freed’s Vaccine Primer: An Inoculation is “just the facts”.
Sparse and well referenced, the Vaccine Primer was conceived by Freed as a summary of his research “to be presented to those who want to know what vaccines are, how they work and what the voluminous science really says”. Freed draws on his years of study and experience, and his skill as a teacher, to summarize the issue in a way that is accessible and understandable to the curious lay person.
Vaccine Primer opens with the question, “Did Vaccines Save Us?” as a way of traversing the historical landscape of disease and vaccines. Here, as throughout the book, Freed prompts the reader with thought provoking questions and invites the reader to enter into a conversation with the material:
As we will see, it is also important to measure how overall health outcomes change in multiple generations of vaccinated families. Vaccines change our immune system and DNA and those changes are passed from parents to children. Are these changes positive or negative?
In Part Two Elliot Freed jumps right into the problem of vaccine injury, and here his gentle but uncompromising approach becomes apparent as he takes on the issues of incidence, the credibility of VAERS, the case for a connection between vaccines and autism, and the role of media and the CDC in failing to investigate the volume of parent stories of neurodegenerative disease following vaccination. Again, he concludes this section with professorial-like questions that invite engagement:
We find ourselves with a lack of definitive evidence that vaccines have saved lives. We find a vast clinical experience and extensive published science on the dangers of vaccines. This leaves us wondering, what exactly is it that vaccines are supposed to do and how are they supposed to do it? Is it the same thing that they are actually doing? If not, what is the difference and why?
Part Three, dealing with the effect of vaccines, opens boldly:
Vaccines cause illness. That is the purpose of vaccines, as stated by vaccine developers. The idea is that they will cause a mild form of the illness that trains the body to respond so that when the natural infection is encountered the body can respond better. This theory has never been proven in any scientific way yet is taught in medical school as gospel.
Freed then discusses the effects of vaccines in three parts: the “strange” route of entry; the “mutated” immune response of cellular and humoral immunity, the Th2 shift, cytokines and inflammation, the role of antibodies and the microbiome; and the toxic components of vaccines. He argues that there is no such thing as a “vaccine preventable disease” and that the vaccinated individual’s immune system is not stronger as a result of having received vaccines. He is cautious and wholistic in his approach to bodily systems:
The microbiome is a new revelation in the study of human biology. That such discoveries can be made so apparently late in the game is further proof that we must approach any grand experiments on all of humanity with caution… What we have found in the past twenty years of research is that life is far more complicated than we could ever have imagined. We are whole communities of life in one person and the web of specific interactions is so vast and intricate and refined that few can even imagine let alone comprehend it.
In Part Four, Freed addresses cultural, social and financial pressures and the institutions that help to maintain the vaccine paradigm, quash curiosity and silence dissent. Freed then gives voice to the question asked by so many, “Can we heal ourselves?” and then answers hopefully in the affirmative:
We are constantly healing ourselves. Every moment of every day our body is adapting, adjusting, rebuilding, becoming ill, healing itself. We replace ourselves regularly, as each cell in the body is constantly in one stage or another of replicating itself and when cells are too old to function properly we destroy them and allow the new cells to take their places. This process is disturbed in many ways every day and we find a way to right it the vast majority of the time. If this is not us healing ourselves, what is?
Vaccine Primer’s final part addresses, in only the briefest way, personal health choices and individual responsibility and ends with the question, “How do I help my family develop and maintain good health and resiliency in general and in the face of infectious diseases specifically?” Freed gives broad guidelines and encourages the reader to pursue their own health research, but gives little in the way of further suggestions which some may find frustrating.
With a spine just shy of a quarter of an inch, Vaccine Primer packs quite a wallop for its size, deftly introducing the topic with both depth and breadth. Freed’s background in medical editing and teaching are apparent as he distills complex concepts into clear and understandable summaries using a matter of fact tone, and he occasionally nudges the reader with Socratic style questions. His forthright and provocative claims are presented in such a way that it is hard not to generate curiosity and questions worthy of further exploration, so if the goal is to stimulate questioning and learning, the book will most likely be successful in that respect.
A distinguishing feature of the book is that footnotes and other resources are found on the book’s website, rather than within the book. These endnotes are updated or enhanced as new research becomes available so the book will remain relevant as the science evolves. Forcing the reader to the website for this information may have the advantage of encouraging even the most skeptic reader into a deeper exploration of the science of vaccines since the references become more rich and interactive (and, as many have discovered, one click inevitably leads to another). In keeping with its sparse nature there is no index, but the book is short enough that most topics should be easy enough to find.
Reading the Vaccine Primer feels a little like being firmly grasped at the elbow by an expert tour guide and taken on a whirlwind tour of immunity. Freed stands firmly on science, condenses heavy material into manageable bites that even non-scientists can digest, and navigates controversy with a light touch. I can think of few better companions for the journey down the rabbit hole.