Review of ‘Defeating the Ministers of Death’ by David Isaacs

Vaccination has saved millions, possibly billions, of lives. This fascinating book by Professor David Isaacs, a consultant paediatrician, tells the story of vaccination and is also a guide to how vaccines work. Not only is it an interesting exploration of medical history, it serves as a reassurance of the safety of and need for immunisation programmes.

This book made me grateful to be living in a time (and location) in which I’m protected against several infectious diseases that would, not so long ago, have been feared because they killed so many children. Thanks to the men and women who were determined to prevent the devastation caused by viruses such as polio, measles, tuberculosis, diptheria, hepatitis and pertussis (whooping cough), plus governments and health organisations who funded and promoted the immunisation programmes, I’m able to take this protection for granted, as I suspect many other people do who live in industrialised countries today.

The style of writing is easy to read, as the author assumes you have the average person’s knowledge of medicine. The content is straightforward and considered, illustrated by literary quotes, personal anecdote and emotional appeal, in addition to the clear explanations and statistics. Examples are international in scope but with a particular focus on Australia (where this book was originally published this year), as that’s where Professor Isaacs works. I found the first few chapters to be the most interesting, because each one focused on a specific disease. Some of the later chapters repeated the information, as part of themed discussions on vaccines. I would say that the book covers everything you might want to know about vaccination: how it works, the risks, the disasters, the myths, how the substances are made and supplied, etc.

Ethics is a strong point in the book. The author discusses how parents’ rights not to have their children immunised are clashing with children’s rights (compromising the ‘herd immunity’ which protects the most vulnerable when a certain proportion of people have been vaccinated). He also looks at ‘tainted’ research and whether it is ethical to benefit from vaccines developed which historically had roots in harming people or not had consent from the participants. This is a really fascinating topic. I find it incredible that the anti-vaccination movement is still going (probably, these days, fuelled by social media and fake news) when there is clear evidence that vaccination works. There is a slight risk with any kind of medical treatment, but the benefits of vaccines heavily outweigh the cost to society when you consider the alternative. Maybe the anti-vax people would consider taking a dose of one of these diseases to see what it would be like if their dangerous opinions gain more ground.

4 thoughts on “Review of ‘Defeating the Ministers of Death’ by David Isaacs”

  1. Sounds interesting! I was vaccinated as a child and still contracted mumps, leaving me deaf in one ear for a number of years. I hate to think what could have happened had I not been vaccinated. It breaks my heart to think of a time when this protection and medical advances wasn’t available. My son had scarlet fever a couple of years ago, a killer disease in the past, but a bout of antibiotics and he was fine.

    1. Wow, yes the vaccinations aren’t perfect but they do work! Sorry to hear you got mumps, that must be very unpleasant. You’re right, it’s so sad to think of how many people have died from what are now preventable diseases. I’m glad that smallpox has been eradicated as it was horrific.

      1. I can’t really remember much, I was only 5. I just remember my neck being wrapped up tight with a blue scratchy scarf my Grandma knitted one Sunday evening. Random memory!! ?

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