THE POLIO VACCINE AND SIMIAN VIRUS 40
After Thirty Years, Prominent Polio Vaccine Researcher
Confirms Suspicions About Monkey-Virus Contamination
By T.J. Moriarty
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Over the past fifteen or more years, the immune system has been increasingly more
challenged. Indefensible disorders such as AIDS and HIV as well as conditions like Chronic
Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Persian Gulf War-Related Illnesses are the new epidemics of the
Silicon Age. By comparison, the days of polio and small pox epidemics seem crudely
forgiving when we consider that today's viral mutants repeatedly outsmart gains made in
However, it seems the days of polio are still with us - not in the form of acute viral
outbreaks of fever and paralysis - but in the "uncharted" data on the long-term
effects from the simian (monkey) viral contaminated polio vaccines given to countless
children and adults three decades ago. Even more, what other "undetectable"
monkey viruses have been transmitted in the vaccine batches of late? These unanswered
questions continue to resurface in today's research and still riddle retired scientist Ben
Sweet. "No one really knows if there are any dangers, but no scientist can
definitively say there aren't any, that is what's scary," says Sweet.
As a senior research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company from 1959 to 1964, Dr.
Sweet was one of those responsible for the research, development and field testing of the
killed respiratory virus vaccine.
Contaminated Polio Vaccines
Scientific literature states that some polio vaccines given between 1955 and 1961 may
have contained low-levels of live monkey viruses. As many as 26 of the simian contaminants
were readily detected but still other viruses, like SV40 slipped past rigorous quality
control testing procedures available at that time. The simian viruses were inadvertently
introduced into the vaccine pool because the polio virus was grown in monkey (Rhesus,
Patas, or Cynomolgus) kidney cells.
In his 1960 paper, "The Vacuolating Virus : SV40" Sweet and co-author M.R.
Hilleman write, "This new virus represents the detection for the first time of a
hitherto "non-detectable" simian virus of monkey renal cultures and raises the
important question of the existence of other such viruses. All three types of Sabin's live
polio virus vaccine were contaminated."
Dr. Sweet told Chronic Illnet about the alarm that circulated around the discovery
of the SV40 virus in 1960, "It was a frightening discovery because, back then, it was
not possible to detect the virus with the testing procedures we had. It only showed up in
the cells of the African Green monkeys -- the species being used exclusively by our
company. We had no idea of what this virus would do thirty years ago."
Sweet says there were two things that the research team had determined: "First, we
knew that SV40 had oncogenic properties (cancer-causing) in hamsters which was bad news.
Secondly, we found out that it hybridized with certain DNA viruses - like adeno virus -
such that the adeno virus would then have SV40 genes attached to it. We couldn't clean up
the adeno virus vaccine seed stocks grown in monkey kidney cells only". The seed
stocks apparently were always contaminated but the vaccines were still administered.
Confusion Surrounding the "Killed" Vaccine
Possibly the most unsettling part of his research that he carries with him thirty years
later, is knowing that an untold number of people (possibly in the 10's of millions) were
exposed with this virus whether they were given the "live" or "killed"
"Even the people who received a killed polio virus vaccine could have been infected.
Those papers we wrote were incorrect at the time, stating that formalin killed vaccines
were free of simian SV40 virus. But the new information regarding the killed ones was
never published," he added. By then it was too late. These findings came after the
mass inoculations with the polio vaccine.
The distinction between "live" and "killed" vaccines is a critical
one. The scientific community and the American public was told that "killed"
vaccines were undoubtedly safe because formalin was used to destroy any contaminating
simian virus. The thirty-nine or so simian viruses prior to SV40, were probably
inactivated with formalin, but not SV40. The virus eluded the virus-killing
behavior of formalin. This now meant even the "killed" vaccines unintentionally
amounts of active virus. "So it's a likely possibility that a some of those
individuals injected with supposedly inactivated adeno virus vaccines that had the SV40
contaminant or SV40/adeno hybrid could also be producing antibodies to it."
Due to the molecular "kinetics" of virus inactivation, Sweet and other
researchers believe other viruses -- similar to SV40 -- could also have been
present in the vaccines if they too could circumvent formalin inactivation.
There were specific laboratory difficulties associated with adeno virus -- now carrying an
attached form of SV40. Sweet describes, "When we started growing the vaccines, we
just couldn't get rid of the SV40-contaminated virus. We tried to neutralize it, but
couldn't. Either adeno or SV40 would come out down the line."
Chronic Illnet: What were you thinking at the time when you realized people were being
exposed to SV40 about the long-term effects, considering we're still in the dark?
Sweet: "We really didn't think about it until we found out it was oncogenic and now,
with the theoretical links to HIV and cancer, it just blows my mind."
Chronic Illnet: Was there any temptation to just scrap the whole project, make an
announcement and move on?"
Sweet: "Sabin and, more specifically, Salk vaccines were already widely in use by
then. We were, of course, always worried about possible vaccine contaminants present
because we didn't know what these monkey cell cultures were carrying. We were always
worried about encountering a new, undescribed virus. Always. When we found out there were
viruses present in the Rhesus -cynomolgus monkey systems, and the possibility that each
monkey assay system was different from another, the temptation was there to transfer the
studies to another system. But it was too late to switch gears and start using raccoon or
chicken systems, because then you could be dealing with another whole set of
Chronic Illnet: What was the political climate?
Sweet: "You had to be careful, very careful. When the virus appeared oncogenic in
hamsters, we wanted to do tests to determine if it caused malignant transformation of
normal cells in culture. In reality, we did not although an outside agency confirmed the
Sweet also described another inherent problem in vaccine development -- the controversy
and competition between the Salk (killed) and Sabin (live) formulas. Despite common
knowledge, both Salk and Sabin were definitely contaminated. The Salk vaccine had already
garnered prestigious appeal as a "safe vaccine".
Long-term Studies Encouraged Three Decades Ago
In his 1960 paper, Sweet, et al. stressed the need for studies on the long-term effects on
humans to determine the pathogenicity of these agents for man. "When the
'contaminated' vaccines were released, we really felt confident patients needed a
substantially higher level of infectious SV40 and/or they had to receive multiple shots to
elevate the body's viral count high enough to cause the harm." To some, the term
"contaminated" carries with it an intent of malice, but Dr. Sweet says this
is clearly not the case. Sweet noted that persons fed live SV40 contaminated polio virus
vaccine orally, or inactivated Salk-type vaccine intramuscularly, showed strong evidence
production to polio viruses. In additon, the vaccine recipients were not showing
significant harmful effects or antibody production, in the short term, to SV40 - which was
encouraging. "Less concerning long-terms effects could be noted," he says.
At the time of the discovery of the human exposure to SV40, there was no evidence that the
virus was present or active in vaccine recipients. In recent years, however, SV40 has been
isolated in human tissue, two from the brains of patients with PML (progressive multifocal
leukoencephalopathy) and another from a metastatic melanoma patient. Results of this study
appeared in the paper "Human Exposure to SV40 : Review and Comment" by Shah and
Nathanson in the Journal of Epidemiology in January of 1976. Important from that report is
the only definitive origin of where human exposure came from, "With the exception of
viral vaccines, no pharmaceutical product intended for human use requires the use of
simian cultures." Based on their interpretations, the authors estimate somewhere
between 10-30 million people of the 98 million injected were exposed to at least SV40.
Today's Polio Vaccine Research - Long-Term Effects
To date, the polio vaccine has been administered to an estimated ninety-seven percent of
children in the United States.
Although there are no "proven" scientific facts about the possible perils of
contaminated or even "purified" polio vaccines, there are a handful of credible
researchers with theories too intriguing and carefully outlined to disregard. Their
theories, if proven, may offer a new link in conquering the immunodeficiency diseases of
Microbiologist Howard Urnovitz is one member of a team who believes many of today's "new"
syndromes like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Gulf War-Related Illnesses and even HIV have,
"some association with the possible contaminants in the vaccine." He says we may
be paying the price for "prevention" years later, as the uncertainty about the
effects on our immune system from the vaccine continues to unfold.
Was SIV Also Present? Is There an Evolution of HIV from the Vaccines ?
There is also a concern whether another virus of primate origin -- Simian Immunodeficiency
Virus (SIV) -- could also have been present in the original vaccines. That possibility
cannot be ruled out. But only testing of the original polio vaccine samples and seed
stocks would give a reliable or closely definitive answer. Sweet stressed the need for
studies on the original simian isolates and the antisera prepared against them and their
possible relationship to SIV. At this point, future studies may be lost due to the
impossibility of retrieving such samples.
At the 8th Annual Houston Conference on AIDS, Urnovitz suggests that HIV-1 may have also
originated from the contaminated polio vaccines through the recombination with normal
human genes. "It is very likely that HIV-1 may have been a result, and that it may in
fact be a monkey-human
hybrid. His theory states that the contaminating viruses have
"archived" themselves in the body's nerve tissue. These virus fragments then
resurface at a later date when the immune system becomes challenged. An opportunistic
infection or exposure to toxins could be the "trigger" that stimulates the
reappearance of these virus fragments.
"This virus 'archiving' could be igniting the symptoms of central nervous system
disorders, chronic fatigue and joint pain that have been linked to more than a dozen
unexplained epidemics," he added.
Dr. R. Stricker's paper entitled "The Polio Vaccine and the Origin of AIDS" that
appeared in the January 1994 edition of Medical Hypothesis is yet another theory
highlighting a potential link. Stricker states, "The transfer of monkey viruses to
man via vaccines is particularly relevant to AIDS since the causative agent HIV, is
thought to be derived from a simian precursor virus." He says the evolution of HIV
remains to be proven but is nonetheless startling, "Is it only a coincidence that HIV
infection manifested itself at the same time as the introduction of vaccines that are now
known to have been contaminated with simian viruses?"
The collection of theories on the origins, pathways and the sheer number of potential
"victims" from the contaminated vaccines is certainly unsettling. Although each
theory has its own individual elements, a cohesion exists: The cross-species cultivation
of vaccines is clearly laden with risks -- risks that may be irreversible, carrying
consequences too great to endure. But to what extent, if any, irreparable damage has been
inflicted upon humanity is still blurry.
For consumer activist Barbara Loe Fisher, co-Founder & president of the National Vaccine Information Web Site, the fact that
the original vaccines were contaminated and current polio vaccines are still grown on
African Green monkey tissues, is just one more indication that government vaccine
officials have created dangerous public health policies without making sure they have the
solid science to back them up.
"Who is minding the public health when the FDA allows drug companies to produce
vaccines grown on animal tissue cultures and they don't even know if this practice is
facilitating cross species transfer of animal viruses into man?" says Fisher.
Highlighting the fact that American parents are legally required to vaccinate their babies
with 10 different viral and bacterial vaccines, Fisher warns, "No one really knows
the latent, long term effects on the human immune and neurological systems. With 200
vaccines in the research pipeline, more than 100 in clinical trials and scores on the
brink of being licensed, vaccine research had better get back to the basic science before
another AIDS epidemic is created in a vaccine lab."
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