On Immunity – Review

A version of this review originally appeared in edition #477 of The Big Issue.


Much of the antagonism that characterises the debate about vaccination involves stereotyping that pits ‘ignorant mothers’ against ‘educated doctors’, writes Eula Biss. On Immunity narrows the divide: it’s an exploration of the history, effectiveness and safety of vaccines, as well as a personal account of a first-time mother’s anxieties. Given our interdependence on each others’ immune systems, Biss contends that choosing to vaccinate is to fulfill collective responsibility.


The book is both well-researched and interesting. Her explanations of scientific concepts are clear and stripped of medical jargon. Any dryness is averted by the inclusion of informative tidbits: about historical vaccination at gunpoint, chickenpox lollipops, that the term ‘conscientious objector’ originally designated someone refusing vaccination, or that 25% of American adults still incorrectly believe that vaccines cause autism. Beyond medicine, Biss draws on history and literature— everything from Greek mythology to Dracula and pop culture vampires. Both broad and detailed, the book is a compelling case for the undeniable benefits of vaccination.


On Immunity: An Inoculation

by Eula Biss

Text Publishing, 2015

By Donna Lu

Donna Lu is a writer and journalist.

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