A reading club with a view to the future

068 Eula Biss: On Immunity

A deep dive into the myths and fears surrounding vaccination, and a meditation on the meaning of immunity.

Eula Biss: On Immunity


In "On Immunity," Eula Biss explores the cultural and historical roots of our fears surrounding vaccination, while also considering the science behind immunization. She weaves together personal anecdotes with in-depth research to create a thought-provoking meditation on the role of immunity in our lives. Ultimately, she argues that immunity is not just a biological phenomenon, but a social and cultural one as well, shaped by our beliefs, fears, and values.


Title: On Immunity: An Inoculation

Author: Eula Biss

Publishing year: 2014

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Length in hours: 6 hours and 23 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Vaccination is not just a medical decision, but a cultural one, shaped by our beliefs and fears.
  2. The history of vaccination is intertwined with the history of disease, and has played a critical role in public health.
  3. The science of immunization is complex, but vaccines are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent disease.
  4. Public trust in vaccines is essential to their success, but this trust can be undermined by misinformation and fear.
  5. The benefits of vaccination extend beyond the individual, to society as a whole.
Eula Biss: On Immunity

5 funny quotes

  1. "Sometimes it feels like the whole world is an autoimmune disorder, and vaccines are the cure."
  2. "When it comes to our health, it's good to be a little hypochondriacal. Just don't let it ruin your life."
  3. "I had a flu shot, and all I got was this lousy immunity."
  4. "Vaccines don't just save lives, they also save money. Who says healthcare can't be cost-effective?"
  5. "When it comes to immunity, there's no such thing as a free ride. But a vaccine comes pretty close."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The idea that vaccines might cause autism has been thoroughly debunked. Yet fears about vaccines linger."
  2. "Our bodies are not cars, which are inert objects that can be maintained indefinitely with a minimum of intervention."
  3. "We are interdependent with our communities and with our environments, but it is easy to feel isolated from both."
  4. "We often forget that the risks we take with our own health can have profound effects on the health of others."
  5. "The idea that we are individuals, responsible only for ourselves, is a myth.

5 dilemmas

  1. Balancing individual rights with public health concerns in the context of mandatory vaccination policies.
  2. Negotiating the complex ethical considerations around using human subjects in medical research.
  3. Ensuring that pharmaceutical companies are motivated to develop life-saving treatments while also keeping healthcare costs under control.
  4. Navigating the tension between medical progress and cultural traditions that may resist scientific innovations.
  5. Addressing the legacy of medical exploitation and neglect in marginalized communities, and rebuilding trust in healthcare systems.

5 examples

  1. Jenny McCarthy, who famously spread misinformation about vaccines causing autism.
  2. Jonas Salk, who developed the first effective polio vaccine.
  3. James Lind, who conducted the first clinical trial to test the efficacy of citrus fruits in treating scurvy.
  4. Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were used without her consent to develop countless medical treatments.
  5. Andrew Wakefield, whose fraudulent study linking vaccines to autism caused a lasting controversy.

Referenced books

  1. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
  2. "The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World" by Steven Johnson
  3. "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood
  4. "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson
  5. "The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception" by Michel Foucault

Share a quote

"We often forget that the risks we take with our own health can have profound effects on the health of others."

Eula Biss: On Immunity
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