The Pasteur Institute in the troubled years of the war

The matter seems settled. The Pasteur Institute, a famous player in biomedical research in France, behaved during the Second World War in an exemplary manner. One of its presidents, Louis Pasteur Vallery-Radot (1886-1970), grandson of the tutelary figure, Louis Pasteur, was a resistance fighter, a Gaullist and became national secretary of health after the Liberation. The laboratory cellars served as clandestine pharmacies for the French forces of the interior. Deliveries of vaccines to Germans have been slowed down…

However, the account of these years of the Occupation by Nicolas Chevus-au-Louis, journalist, is not a hagiography. The author even expresses his doubts caused by facts likely to tarnish the Epinal image of the Institute.

It would be a shame to divulge the conclusions of this historical work informed by numerous archives. Obviously, and unsurprisingly given this period, things are more complex than they seem.

Even if a curiosity guided by the hope of revelations capable of debunking a statue can make people read this story with appetite, the latter also applies to everything it says about the times, science or vaccination.

Vaccination debate

Obviously the current period, with the Covid pandemic, the debates on vaccination or science, adds to the interest of the book. Incidentally we discover or rediscover that, even in the country of Pasteur, vaccination does not go without saying. Lively controversies over the advisability of immunizing a population, including from the medical world, marked the pre-war years.

The competition is also tough on the scientific level, with several possible approaches to combat typhus. The reader will be amused to see how quickly vaccines are developed, barely tested and quickly distributed. Manufacturing and logistical concerns are also present, with interesting episodes on the key role of horses in the preparation of serums.

It is a question of finances and the balance between donations and commercial revenues from vaccine sales, which again refer to debates that are still current. Just like the technical considerations on the organization of research, the wars of leaders… These are further examples of what the Second World War brought to research in terms of structural heritage. Without forgetting the debates already present on the relations between scientific knowledge and war, or on the neutrality of scientists.

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