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Vaccines: What You Don't Really Need To Know

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Vaccines: What You Don't Really Need To Know

Strange News

Vaccines: What You Don't Really Need To Know

Vaccines: What You Don't Really Need To Know

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120909120/120909096" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Rumors about the swine flu vaccine have, pardon the expression, gone viral. The Internet has helped spread these theories, but rumors about the safety and efficacy of vaccines have been around much longer than the World Wide Web. Host Scott Simon talks with trivia expert A.J. Jacobs about the little facts you may not know.

SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Rumors about the swine flu vaccine have - if you please pardon the expression - gone viral. The Internet abounds with rumors and warnings about the H1N1 virus vaccine. The Internet has certainly helped spread these theories, but rumors about the safety and efficacy of vaccines have been around much longer than the World Wide Web.

Our resident expert on trivial and not-so-trivial matters, his own Mr. Know- It-All A.J. Jacobs is in our New York studio.

Thanks very much for being with us, A.J.

SIMON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Vaccinations have always been controversial, haven't they?

SIMON: Right from the start. The first vaccination campaign was in 1721 in Massachusetts. There was a smallpox epidemic, and Cotton Mather started an inoculation campaign and people freaked out. They called him the devil. One man threw a lit bomb through his window with a note that said: You dog, damn you. I'll inoculate you with this.

SIMON: What have doctors done over the years to sometimes try and convince people to come into that old inoculation tent?

SIMON: The whole idea of lollipops and "Dora the Explorer" stickers, that has long precedent. They used to have jugglers and clowns and sing-a-longs. So you know, it's fun to go in there and take mercury pills.

SIMON: I want to get you to tell us a really very inspiring vaccine story, and I'm sure there's more than one, but Dr. Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine...

SIMON: Yeah, by most accounts he really was a good guy. He was not in it for the money. He said, I'm not going to patent this vaccine. How can you patent the sun? He was not in it for the fame. They wanted to give him a ticker-tape parade in New York and he refused. They wanted to make a movie out of him. He refused. He really was in it for the knowledge and the science. And it was a huge deal. I mean...

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: ...polio was a scourge, and he did the biggest medical experiment in history. Almost 2 million people were in on this vaccine test. And when the positive results were announced, it was like they won a war. You know, church bells were ringing and people were crying, and it was one of the biggest days in medical history.

SIMON: I guess it's hard for us to appreciate nowadays what the practical extinction of polio meant.

SIMON: Absolutely. And same with smallpox. The man who was the Jonas Salk of the early 1800s was a man name Edward Jenner, and he was the one who finally conquered smallpox with his vaccine. And he, too, became this huge celebrity. The Empress of Russia decreed that the first Russian kid who was vaccinated would actually be named Vaccinoff(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: It was such a big deal - which I actually think, you know, he might not have gotten smallpox but he sure got beat up in school.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: So it's sort of a trade-off there.

SIMON: A.J., nice talking to you.

SIMON: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: A.J. Jacobs, editor-at-large for Esquire. His latest book is "The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment."

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