A government carries a mighty weight upon its shoulders. It is responsible for the protection, health, and well-being of each of its citizens. In most instances, governments succeed in that capacity. But what happens when the entity responsible for protecting its citizens instead causes them great harm?
Some aspects of the story below may be debated but what stands as cold, hard fact is that in the early days of polio vaccinations, the United States government distributed millions of vaccines that were contaminated with cancer-causing monkey viruses including SV40 (and potentially the very virus that started the AIDS epidemic). This is how it happened.
The Polio threat impacts up to 57,000 people in the U.S. each year
Polio (i.e. Poliomylitis) has been around since ancient times and there still is no cure for the disease. A person inflicted with polio, which attacks nerve cells, will experience a wasting away of muscle tissue, paralysis, and potentially death. During the first half of the 20th century, polio struck down hundreds of thousands of people, leaving many of them paralyzed. Science Odyssey explained the scenario:
“Since 1900 there had been cycles of epidemics, each seeming to get stronger and more disastrous. The disease, whose early symptoms are like the flu, struck mostly children, although adults, including Franklin Roosevelt, caught it too.”
The worst year of the cyclical polio epidemics was 1952 when more than 57,000 polio cases were reported in the U.S. alone. 3,000 people died that year.
Dr. Salk invents a vaccination for polio
In April 1952, Dr. Jonas Salk, a quiet, unassuming researcher from Pittsburgh, mounted the podium at the University of Michigan and announced that he had developed a vaccine against polio. That very afternoon, the government licensed the vaccine for distribution and in 1954 it was accepted for national testing.
Dr. Salks vaccine was developed by growing the live polio virus in kidney tissue obtained from Asian rhesus monkeys. The virus was then killed with formaldehyde and subsequently injected into humans. The polio vaccine, like most other vaccines, introduces a small amount of the virus into the body which then uses its natural defenses to build up an immunity to the virus.
Towards the end of 1954, Dr. Bernice Eddy made a startling discovery while confirming the effectiveness of the vaccine on monkeys. While examining the minced kidney cells of rhesus monkeys, she discovered remnant cells of live poliovirus. In fact, three of the six batches she tested contained live polio virus. The findings hinted at a flawed manufacturing process. She reported her findings to her supervisor and was promptly dismissed from her position at the National Institute of Health.
As a result, the first round of polio vaccination testing did not go so well. Granted, in the first round of tests, 60%-70% of the persons vaccinated did not develop the disease. On the other hand, two hundred people who were vaccinated caught the disease. Eleven of them died. When the cause was determined to be a faulty batch from Cutter Laboratories, testing resumed and one year later, four million vaccinations were given nationwide. By 1959, 90 countries around the world were giving polio vaccinations to their citizens. Little did they know that as a result, something even more deadly was coming their way.
Cancer causing contaminants are found in polio vaccinations
Years later, in 1959, Eddy again began conducting safety studies on polio vaccines which used viruses grown from monkey kidney cells. Two years later, Eddy showed that an extract of rhesus monkey kidney cells (RMKC) used in the creation of the polio vaccine caused tumors in newborn hamsters. Specifically, 109 of 154 mice injected with RMKC extracts showed signs of tumor growth. Theoretically speaking, it added to a growing body of evidence that the monkey, like the mouse, could harbor oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses that could affect other animal species – and that virus was present in polio vaccinations.
Although Eddy’s supervisor dismissed her findings, at the same time, researchers Dr. Maurice Hilleman and Dr. Ben Sweet of Merck Labs also isolated the SV40 virus in the polio vaccinations. The Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology, included the earth-shattering report in which Michael E. Horwin explained how the virus contaminate was found to cause cancer in laboratory animals:
“Dr. Eddy discovered that the cells would die without any apparent cause. She then took suspensions of the cellular material from these kidney cell cultures and injected them into hamsters. Cancers grew in the hamsters. Shortly thereafter, scientists at the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. discovered what would later be determined to be the same virus identified by Eddy. This virus was named Simian Virus 40 or SV40 because it was the 40th simian virus found in monkey kidney cells.”
Shortly after Dr. Eddy’s discovery was made public, a host of high-powered researchers and scientists, including the developer of the polio vaccine, Dr. Salk himself, quickly stepped forward to defend the polio vaccine. They did so with little evidence to back up their claims.
Dr. Michael B. Shimkin of the National Cancer Institute attempted to squash public fears:
“It seems to me that if danger were attached to SV-40, we would recognize it by now. The public can be reassured because careful studies have produced no evidence whatsoever that during the last few years there has been an increase in leukemia or cancer which can be attributed to SV-40.”
The question of whether SV40 causes cancer in humans remains controversial.
Polio vaccinations continue unabated
Meanwhile, by 1960, the polio vaccination had been given to over 98 million American children – over 60% of the population. Upon the discovery that SV40 caused cancer in laboratory animals, and that it had found its way into the polio vaccines, the federal government rightly became concerned. If they had essentially forced the public to receive vaccinations which in turn ended up causing a different life-threatening condition, the ramifications could be politically and economically devastating to the country.
In early 1961, U.S. Public Health Service officials met with top vaccine advisers to discuss the problem. Although their limited testing found no evidence that the virus caused cancer in humans, a new federal law was passed in 1961 that required manufacturers eliminate the virus from the vaccines (“clean” African green monkeys were substituted for Asian Rhesus monkeys). However, this law did not require that existing SV40 contaminated vaccines be thrown away or that the contaminated seed material used to make all polio vaccines for the next four decades be discarded.
The U.S. Public Health Service kept their findings to themselves. They did not inform the public of the contamination or the virus’s cancer-causing effect found in laboratory hamsters. The first the public heard of the contamination was in a New York Times article that ran on July 26, 1961 (you can read entire article in the Additional Information section below).
The story reported, in very simple terms, that Merck had halted production until they could get a “monkey virus” out of the vaccine. When asked to comment, the U.S. Public Health Service stressed that there was no evidence that the virus was dangerous to the human population.
As a result of their refusal to admit the potential danger, known SV40 contaminated vaccines were injected into children up until early 1963 (some believe contaminated injections could have continued into the 1990’s). The government’s official position remained – the virus posed no danger to humans.
SV40 virus discovered in cancer tumors and in the blood of donors
In 1998, two researchers in Boston stumbled onto something quite disturbing. Dr. Robert Garcea and his assistant, Dr. John Bergsagel, were using a powerful new tool called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to look for common human viruses in children’s brain tumors. But a different DNA footprint kept popping up in more than half the tumors that they examined. After careful analysis, they were stunned to find that they were seeing the SV40 virus in the tumors. By the end of 1996, dozens of scientists reported finding SV40 in a variety of bone cancers and a wide range of brain cancers, which had risen 30% over the previous 20 years. In May 1999, a research study titled “Cancer risk associated with simian virus 40 contaminated polio vaccine” by SG Fisher, L Weber, and M Carbone stated:
“The presence of SV40 in monkey cell cultures used in the preparation of the polio vaccine from 1955 through 1961 is well documented. Investigations have consistently demonstrated the oncogenic behavior of SV40 in animal models. Early epidemiologic studies were inadequate in demonstrating an increase in cancer incidence associated with contaminated vaccine. Recently, investigators have provided persuasive evidence that SV40 is present in human ependymomas, choroid plexus tumors, bone tumors, and mesotheliomas, however, the etiologic role of the virus in tumorigenesis has not been established… These data suggest that there may be an increased incidence of certain cancers among the 98 million persons exposed to contaminated polio vaccine in the U.S.; further investigations are clearly justified.”
The problem was complicated even further when Italian researchers reported finding SV40 in 45% of the seminal fluid samples and 23% of the blood samples they had taken from healthy donors. Their findings seemed to suggest that SV40 could have been spreading through sexual activity, from mother to child, or by other means including blood transfusions. Had a chain reaction of sorts been set into motion?
Studies contradict each other
Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute published a study showing no significant increase in cancer risk in people vaccinated with the polio vaccine. The report was quickly challenged when other researchers presented vastly different findings. Studying 18- to 26-year-olds who probably had been exposed to the contaminated vaccine, researchers found a 19.6% greater incidence of the two major brain cancers linked to SV40 when compared with the incidence in people the same age who were not exposed. They also found 16.6% more bone cancers and a whopping 178% more mesotheliomas among those exposed to the vaccine while pointing out that if SV40 was continuing to be transmitted throughout the population via social encounters and blood transfusions, then many people in the “unexposed” group could still be contracting the virus from others in the population.
Growing concern amongst the medical community
By 2000, in laboratories around the world, researchers continued to find SV40 in a widening range of tumors that now included pituitary and thyroid cancers and some lymphomas. In 2001, a conference was held in Chicago to discuss the issue further. For two days, scientists from as far away as China and New Zealand presented the results of their studies at the conference, with almost every speaker concluding that SV40 was present in the tissues they examined. On researcher noted:
“Sixty-two papers from 30 laboratories from around the world have reported SV40 in human tissues and tumors. It is very difficult to believe that all of these papers, all of the techniques used and all of the people around the world are wrong.”
In Michael E. Horwin’s 2003 report in Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology, he noted not only the propensity for the vaccinations to promote cancer but offered increasing cancer rates as proof. Horwin pointedly noted that “the pediatric cancer rates continued to climb through the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.” Something strange was going on.
Evidence, and concerns, continued to mount. Doctors continued to notice the SV40 virus in tumors that were removed from patients. Even big names in the industry expressed their concern.
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote:
“For four decades, government officials have insisted that there is no evidence the simian virus called SV40 is harmful to humans. But in recent years, dozens of scientific studies have found the virus in a steadily increasing number of rare brain, bone and lung-related tumors – the same malignant cancer SV40 causes in lab animals,” the report said. “Even more troubling, the virus has been detected in tumors removed from people never inoculated with the contaminated vaccine, leading some to worry that those infected by the vaccine might be spreading SV40.”
Dr. Adi Gazdar, a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center cancer researcher, told reporters:
“The government has not sponsored any real research. Here’s something possibly affecting millions of Americans, and they’re indifferent. Maybe they don’t want to find out.”
Why would a government refuse to admit they sentenced an entire generation to death?
Other studies, conducted by institutions such as National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine Immunization Safety Review Committee, were “inconclusive”. All are keenly aware however, that the consequences of the United States admitting that the government inadvertently prompted the growing cancer epidemic, would be economically and politically disastrous to the U.S. and the world in general. Politics and economics aside, a world in which an entire generation lived their lives knowing that a death sentence hung over their heads, could never be controlled by any government.
A slew of conspiracy theories erupts
Today the debate still rages with several organizations dedicated solely to exposing the truth about the coverup. Some aspects of the coverup become even more disturbing when melded with JFK assassination theories (several theories propose a tie-in between the JFK assassination and a secret government program to develop cancer-causing viruses), the murder of Dr. Mary S. Sherman (conducted research into the cancer-causing contaminants in SV40 and was murdered the day the Warren Commission arrived in New Orleans to obtain information about the Kennedy assassination), the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic (some propose that in an attempt to stop the SV40 spread, the government mutated viruses into the HIV virus), and other puzzling historical events.
Barbara Loe Fisher, president and co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center, summed it up best when she testified before the House Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness in September 2003. In her presentation she noted:
“Today, U.S. federal health agencies admit the following two facts: (1) Salk polio vaccine released for public use between 1955 and 1963 was contaminated with SV40; and (2) SV40 has been proven to cause cancer in animals.”
New York Times article that ran on July 26, 1961 revealing companies were halting polio vaccine production
House Hearing – The SV-40 virus: has tainted polio vaccine caused in increase in cancer
In-Article Image Credits1962 line of people awaiting their polio vaccination in San Antonio, Texas via The Conversation by CDC with usage type - Public Domain. 1962
Polio vaccine billboard in Muscogee via CDC with usage type - Public Domain
Poliomyelitis vaccine via History.com by Los Angeles Examiner
Salk vaccine headlines Polio virus via Wikimedia Commons by March of Dimes with usage type - Public Domain. April 13, 1955
CDC Wellbee polio vaccine promotional advertisement via Wikimedia Commons by CDC with usage type - Public Domain. 1963
Child with polio in an iron lung via World Health Organization with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1955
Albert Bruce Sabin (1906–1993) inventor of the oral polio vaccine via World Health Organization by Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain. Circa 1960
Child receiving polio vaccination via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Public Domain
Featured Image CreditChild receiving polio vaccination via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Public Domain