Stuck was published shortly before the Covid pandemic when the American vaccine wars, with all their hostility, misinformation, and political baggage, lay more than a year in the future. In Stuck, Heidi J. Larson, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, approaches vaccine rejection as a complex moral and cultural phenomenon, rather than as a simple issue of ignorance or a marginal point-of-view. In a sense, anti-vaccine rumors are the tip of an iceberg, reflecting and perpetuated by deep underlying concerns, like perceived threats to personal or cultural values, distrust of government, misperception of risks and benefits, or a combination of these. The claim that compulsory immunization violates personal freedom is especially prominent today.  

Rumor is a major source of vaccine rejection. The author discusses in detail the case of Andrew Wakefield and his contention that MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine causes autism. This belief, based on a 1998 paper in The Lancet (later retracted) has been shown to be false by numerous large-scale studies, but is accepted by perhaps millions of people throughout the world.  


In Stuck, Dr. Larson makes a strong case that vaccine hesitancy and rejection are widespread and growing global problems. The book is much weaker in proposing effective solutions. It’s clear that simple solutions, based on the premise that resistance will fade away as soon as public health agencies “educate” people, have failed.  Dr. Larson recommends listening more carefully to antivaxxers’ concerns and developing creative pro-vaccine messaging. Since the publication of her book, the massive initiative to vaccinate the American population against Covid has confirmed the extent and multiplicity of antivaccine beliefs in our society. It has also led public health agencies to develop more sensitive and engaging messaging than in the past. Nonetheless, the core problem remains.


Oxford University Press

Place Published

New York



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