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Bioethicist Cautions Against Too Much Caution In Vaccine Research

Worker at a vaccine manufacturing facility.
Sanofi Pasteur / Patrick Boulen
Flickr - Creative Commons
Vaccine manufaturing facility.

When German measles, or rubella, broke out in the U.S. in the 1960s, women were terrified about the disabling effects the disease could have on their unborn babies. Clinicians eventually developed a vaccine but would not administer it to pregnant women, believing it was too risky – a decision that led to thousands of abortions and a huge amount of stress and fear. 

The zika virus, which is similarly mild for most adults but can be devastating for fetuses, could fall prey to the same thinking as medical researchers endeavor to create and test a vaccine. And these efforts raise larger questions about which populations participate in medical testing, and which are excluded.

Host Frank Stasio talks with bioethicist and social medicine professor Anne Lyerly and with history professor Leslie Reagan about the historical example of rubella and the current state of medical research involving pregnant women. 

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Jennifer Brookland is the American Homefront Project Veterans Reporting Fellow. She covers stories about the military and veterans as well as issues affecting the people and places of North Carolina.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.