A Shot to Save the World: The Remarkable Race and Ground-Breaking Science Behind the Covid-19 Vaccines by Gregory Zuckerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An excellent and fascinating account of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is putting the development of the vaccines into historical context. Zuckerman starts with the precursor research that led to the development. The researchers and scientists that were able to make the breakthroughs that made the COVID vaccines so effective had worked for years, decades in many cases, on trying to develop vaccines and treatments for cancer, AIDS, and other diseases. Though most of those efforts were not successful at their stated aims, what was learned was essential. This is another important aspect of the story of the vaccine development: failure is not failure simpliciter. There is, of course, the adage of try, try again; but also that even in failure there is so much to learn. And what was learned helped to make these vaccines possible.
The first two thirds of the book is focused on pre-2019. Tracing the work of key scientists and the various business, such as Moderna and BioNtech (but several other as well), that played central roles in the development of the vaccines. Zuckerman does a good job of explaining the basics of the science without getting overly technical.
The last third of the book heats up with the race for the vaccine that starts almost immediately with the emergences of the virus in China. Though we know how the story ends, Zuckerman is still able to create the experience of suspense as the reader waits for the results of the clinical trials. He puts us, through the direct first-hand, contemporaneous reports of the main players, into the conference rooms and zoom rooms as these reports come in. You experience their uncertainty and anxiety followed by the elation and release when the successful numbers come in.
Zuckerman does a good job of portraying the main players: showing their ambition and focus, their pride in their work. He is able to show us why we should admire and honor these researchers without lionizing them or making them into other-worldly figures. These are human beings doing the great things that human beings can do.
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