The Forty Year Legacy of Tainted Polio Vaccine|
In the late 1940's and early 1950's the polio virus was taking a savage toll on the American public. Thousands of children and adults were crippled or killed. In 1955, Jonas Salk performed a medical miracle when he discovered how to mass produce polio vaccine by growing it on the kidneys of rhesus monkeys. While there is no question that thousands were saved from the ravages of polio by the Salk vaccine, by 1960 a problem had surfaced -- a problem which would come back to haunt the nation some forty years later.
The complication researchers had isolated in 1960 was a viral contaminate. It seems that when the live polio virus grown on monkey tissues was extracted for vaccine production another virus was extracted as well, SV-40. When this monkey virus was injected into research animals it produced brain cancer. It appears our government didn't wish to create a public panic or discredit the public health service, because instead of recalling the tainted vaccines, it quietly ordered the manufacturers to find a monkey free of SV-40 and continue production. As of 1963, the rhesus monkey had been replaced with the African green monkey for production of a safer polio vaccine, but between the years of 1955 and 1963 as many as 98 million Americans had received doses of live polio virus vaccines tainted with SV-40.
Jumping to the early 1990's, Michele Carbone, Assistant Professor of Pathology at Loyola University in Chicago, isolated fragments of the SV-40 virus in human bone cancers and in a particularly nasty form of lung cancer called mesotheliomas. The viral contaminate from the 50s was back to haunt us, and appeared in 33% of the osteosarcoma bone cancers studied, in 40% of other bone cancers, and in 60% of the mesotheliomas lung cancers. Dr. Carbone believed this study could explain why 50% of the current mesotheliomas being treated were no longer occurring in association with their traditional cause of asbestos exposure.
Already sounding like a bad science fiction story, the worse news was yet to follow. An Italian team of researchers from the Institute of Histology and General Embryology of the University of Ferrara lead by Dr. Fernanda Martini discovered SV-40's presence in various other tumors.
To be specific they found the monkey virus in 83% of choriod plexus papillomas, in 73% of ependymomas, in 47% of astrocytomas, in 50% of glioblastomas, and in 14% of meningiomas.
While the virus's appearance in all of these types of brain tumors is mortifying, even more so is the fact that it materialized in 23% of blood samples and 45% of sperm fluids taken from normal individuals -- normal meaning free of disease at the time of testing. The researchers determined the virus could be transmitted sexually and through blood transfusions. As if to drive this point home, SV-40 has appeared in 61% of all new cancer patients -- patients too young to have received the contaminated vaccine being administered forty years ago who are now believed to have been infected by human to human transmission. Being a blood born organism, it is also suspected that SV-40 is transmissible from mother to child during pregnancy.
The more this matter is researched the more startling the evidence. Senior epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Howard Strickler, has plotted a geographic pattern to the cancers associated with SV-40 helping to confirm its link to 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.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that every American infant and child receive polio vaccinations. While public health officials continue to emphasize how current supplies of the vaccine are safe, Peter Reeve, FDA Virologist, has acknowledged that the administration abandoned independent testing of vaccine purity some fifteen years ago. The job of ensuring safety and purity rests squarely on the shoulders of those manufacturing the vaccines with no federal oversight. Wyeth-Lederle controls the supply of all the oral polio vaccine in this country, and last year's sales totaled some $230 million dollars. Surely there would be no conflict of interest in allowing this corporation to be the sole agent of quality oversight of their own pocketbook?
The government may not have paid attention to the quality of these vaccines, but they had 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 infants immunized with OPV could immunize others through contact exposure. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 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. To add insult to injury in 1994 the World Health Organization proclaimed polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere. Insult because for the past seventeen years the only cases of polio occurring in the United States have been caused by the vaccine itself, and injury because this victory will be paid for in blood from the cancers produced by the monkey virus spread with the vaccine.
One might ask just how such a thing could happen considering the injectable form of the vaccine (IPV) does not use a live virus and doesn't transmit the disease it is designed to shield us from? Well, Wyeth-Lederle's leading competitor Connaught produces IVP which could explain why Wyeth lobbied so hard against the CDC recommending increased use of IVP. In 1996 the CDC revised its recommendation from four doses of OPV to two doses of IVP followed by two doses of OPV, however, physicians have been instructed to give all four doses as OPV if they desire. The cost of IVP vaccine is $5.40 per dose, whereas OPV costs $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.
Well the story of contaminated polio vaccine is not over yet. Microbiologist Howard Urnovitz, Ph.D. 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 320,000 Africans were injected with polio virus contaminated with live simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in the late 1950's. Apparently, viral fragments combine easily with other viruses to produce these hybrids called "chimeras." This theory was confirmed by another research team headed by Dr. B. F. Elswood at the University of California in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, when researchers Cecil H. Fox and John Martin applied to the National Institutes of Health for grants to confirm the presence of SIV and simian cyto-megalovirus (SCMV) contaminates in polio vaccines their requests were denied. Dr. Urnovitz may have an explanation as he stated in the Boston Globe, "that almost 100 million Americans were exposed (to SV-40) through a government sponsored program, but for over 30 years, there has been virtually no government effort to see if anyone's been harmed by the exposure." He added, "The government will not fund science that makes it look culpable."
Could it be our government, once again, is attempting to avoid a public panic while ignoring the great potential for harm these viruses could inflict. Time will tell. Harvard Medical School professor, Dr. Ronald Desroier points out that taking all known scientific evidence into account that the medical experts' knowledge is limited to "perhaps 2% of existing monkey viruses." Who knows what lethal virus may be discovered in our blood streams forty years from now as a result of good intentions....
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