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Wash U administrator’s new book explores history, future of vaccination

Michael Kinch is the author of “Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity.”
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Human immunity – a field of study at the center of Michael Kinch’s career – is a dense subject. But in his new book “Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity,” Kinch aims to sift through the topic’s complexity and reach lay audiences.

“That was really the goal … there’s a lot of science, a lot of medicine that goes into it, but it’s very approachable,” the author said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “The way we’re trying to do it is to say, ‘How would you talk about this with your grandmother?’”

In conversation with host Don Marsh, Kinch touched on everything from the history of vaccinations related to influenza and small pox, to bubonic plague, to antibiotics and the contemporary anti-vaccination movement.

Kinch is an associate vice chancellor and professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Washington University and director of its Centers for Research Innovation in Biotechnology and Drug Discovery.

He said that continued vigilance and scientific advancement is critical to combating infectious diseases and new pathogens – and that too often people assume that most pandemic-level risks are a thing of the past.

Kinch also emphasized the significant impact that vaccinations continue to have – as well as what a lack of vaccination can mean.

“Think about influenza – roughly 30,000 to 50,000 people die in an average year here,” he said. “And if we had a terrorist event, every year, that killed 30,000 to 50,000 people, everyone would be outraged, particularly if it was preventable. In the case of influenza, to a large degree, those [deaths] are preventable, and they’re preventable by vaccines.”

The author also gave an overview of the beginnings of the discredited anti-vaccine movement and also discussed its founder’s connections to President Trump.

“Donald Trump has 31 different tweets indicating his belief - or apparent belief – that MMR vaccine [measles, mumps, rubella] causes autism,” Kinch said.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.