|In the late 1940s and early 1950s,
a dark cloud hung over America: polio. The virus was taking a savage toll, with thousands
of children and adults crippled or killed.
A solution appeared in 1955, when Jonas Salk
astounded the medical world by discovering how to mass produce polio vaccine by growing it
on the kidneys of rhesus monkeys. While there is no question that the Salk vaccine saved
thousands from the ravages of polio, problems surfaced -- a health crisis which haunts our
By 1960 they knew that when the live polio virus grown on monkey tissues was extracted
for the vaccine, another virus was present as well: Simian Virus 40, known to cause brain
cancer in research animals. The polio vaccine was contaminated.
It appears our government didn't wish to create a public panic or to discredit the
public health service. Instead of recalling the tainted vaccines, it quietly ordered the
manufacturers to continue production and find a monkey free of SV-40. By 1963 a safer
polio vaccine was in production; the rhesus monkey had been replaced with the African
green monkey. But between 1955 and 1963, as many as 98 million Americans had received the
contaminated SV-40 polio vaccines.
researchers found the monkey virus in between 14 and 83 percent of human brain tumors
|Flash ahead to Loyola University in the early
1990s. Michele Carbone, Assistant Professor of Pathology, isolated fragments of SV-40 in
human cancers. The viral contaminate from the 1950s appeared in up to 40 percent of bone
cancers and 60 percent of mesotheliomas, a particularly nasty form of lung cancer. He
believed this could explain why half of the current mesotheliomas being treated were no
longer linked with their traditional cause -- asbestos exposure.
at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Howard Strickler, used maps to help confirm the
link between cancers and the tainted vaccine. People who lived in Massachusetts and
Illinois who received identified lot numbers of the contaminated vaccine administered in
the 1950s are now demonstrating ten times the rate of
the osteosarcoma bone tumors as those who received vaccine free of
the SV-40 contaminate in other parts of the country.
Already sounding like bad science fiction, more terrible news was yet to come. Italian
researchers found the monkey virus in between 14 and 83 percent of human brain tumors.
Casting their net wider, studies began looking for the virus in normal individuals --
meaning people free of disease at the time of testing. SV-40 was found in 23 percent of
blood samples and almost half of all sperm tested -- the virus could be transmitted
sexually and through blood transfusions. Being a blood-borne organism, it is also
suspected that it passes from mother to fetus.
This led to discovery of the worst news of all: SV-40 has appeared in 61 percent of all
new cancer patients -- patients too young to have received the contaminated vaccine
administered forty years ago.
The only cases of
polio occurring in the United States for the past seventeen years have been caused by the
|Questions should also be raised about today's
polio vaccinations, required of every American infant and child by the Food and Drug
Administration. While public health officials continue to emphasize the safety of current
supplies of the vaccine, Peter Reeve, FDA Virologist, acknowledges that the administration
abandoned independent testing of vaccine purity some fifteen years ago -- that all quality
assurance is done by the manufacturers the vaccines with no federal oversight.
government may not pay attention to the quality of these vaccines, but they have
formulated a plan for their distribution. Federal vaccination policy advocated the use of
live-virus oral polio vaccine (OPV) based on the belief the live virus shed in the body
fluids of immunized infants would protect others through contact.
The Centers for Disease Control insisted this was a safe practice, and emphasized that
no one previously vaccinated could contract the disease in this manner. The public was
never informed of this strategy, however, and no consent was ever obtained from the
unknowing participants in this vaccination scheme. One hundred and twenty people, many
previously vaccinated, contracted polio as a result of this practice.
Adding insult to injury, the World Health Organization proclaimed that polio was
eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994. The only cases of polio occurring in the
United States for the past seventeen years have been caused by the vaccine itself.
It's not that all polio vaccine is unsafe; the injectable form of the vaccine (IPV)
does not use a live virus and can't transmit the disease. But Wyeth-Lederle controls the
supply of all the oral form of the vaccine in this country, with last year's sales about
$230 million dollars. Wyeth lobbied hard against the CDC recommending increased use of
IVP, which is made by a competitor.
Yet in 1996, the CDC changed its recommendation from four doses of OPV to two doses
each of IVP and OPV. Physicians can still give all four doses of OPV if they desire -- and
often, they do.
IVP vaccine costs $5.40 per dose, more than twice the OPV cost of $2.32 per dose. With
the difference in cost favoring the use of OPV, and the current climate of regulating
health care costs, clearer guidelines must come from the government if they truly expect
to increase the use of the safer IVP vaccine.
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Bookchin, D., & Schumaker, J. (1997). Tainted Polio Vaccine Still Carries Its
Threat 40 Years Later. The Boston Globe, January 26.
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Fisher, B. L. (1997). Workshop on Simian Virus 40: A Possible Human Polyomavirus.
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|The controversy of contaminated polio vaccine
is far from over. Microbiologist Howard Urnovitz provided significant evidence at the
Eighth Annual Houston Conference on AIDS that human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)
is a monkey hybrid virus which was produced when 320 thousand Africans were injected with
polio virus contaminated with live simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in the late 1950s.
Apparently viral fragments combine easily with other viruses to produce these hybrids
This theory was confirmed by another research team at the
University of California in San Francisco. But curiously, when two researchers applied to
the National Institutes of Health for grants to confirm the presence of SIV and another
monkey contaminant in polio vaccines, they were turned down. Why?
"Almost 100 million Americans were exposed (to SV-40) through a government
sponsored program," Dr. Urnovitz told the Boston Globe. "But for over 30 years,
there has been virtually no government effort to see if anyone's been harmed by the
exposure...The government will not fund science that makes it look culpable."