The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780358569848. $28. MED
The story of the remarkable achievement of producing safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 in less than a year is increasingly obscured by political controversy. Journalist Borrell (The Atlantic, National Geographic) illuminates the story from the U.S. perspective, beginning in Wuhan, China, and continuing through the initial stages of deployment. There was no shortage of drama as scientists, corporations, politicians, and career government employees struggled to come together to combat the pandemic. Some of the players had been working on important aspects of the science for years, leading to the use of mRNA as the key component of the first two successful vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Borrell reports the perspectives of key players in the corporations, the HHS, NIH, FDA, CDC, the military, and Operation Warp Speed. Clashes of egos and the potential prestige and profits involved in being the first to succeed produce a story that reads like a thriller. Inside sources reveal missteps, reversals, conflicts, disappointments and triumphs as career officials and scientists work sometimes in tandem with each other, politicians, and the White House, and sometimes in conflict.
VERDICT Relying on extensive firsthand sources, Borrell has produced a readable and detailed early account of developing and implementing vaccines.
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