Part two Vaccine History

by Tom Valentine



Paralytic polio was a scourge prior to the 1950s (polio vaccine first arrived in 1955) and probably everyone in my generation can remember the March of Dimes campaigns with Eleanor Roosevelt leading the way. Well, today the scourge of natural paralytic polio has vanished due to unknown factors, but perhaps due to what molecular biologists today call mutations due to gene drift in the virus.

Epidemiological studies show that polio mortality declined by 82% prior to 1956 in England and Wales. The same pattern emerged in France. The vaccine had nothing to do with any of it. After 10 years of polio vaccine availability (1966), the overall statistics indicated that polio had returned to where it had been in the 1920s. And today, it is argued that the only source of paralytic polio are the polio vaccines.

Regardless of why polio is no longer seen as a major threat, the history of the polio vaccines is one of horrific consequences that few Americans know anything about.

In his fascinating book Mary, Ferrie and The Monkey Virus, investigator-author Edward Haslam relates the dawning of the polio vaccine succinctly. With permission I reprinted his brief description:

Today, many Americans do not remember what a terrible curse the polio epidemic was upon the land. At its crest in the early 1950s more than 33,000 Americans fell crippled or died slow, terrible deaths from polio each year. Most were children. The word polio struck fear into the hearts of parents across America. It was a casually transmitted virus that first infected the lining of the intestines, then the blood stream, and finally the nervous system where it destroyed the victims brain stem. The difference between crippled and dead was determined by the extent of the damage to the brain stem.

Cavernous hospital wards full of hideous looking machines called iron lungs awaited patients who became too weak to breathe for themselves. President Franklin Roosevelt himself was crippled by polio before he entered the White House. The search for a polio vaccine became a national scientific effort supported by the most powerful political forces in the land. The problem was this: Polio was caused by a virus, not a bacterium, and viruses do not respond to antibiotics. So despite the spectacular success of antibiotics introduced to the American clinical scene in 1942, the medical community was powerless to stop this virus from crippling and killing.

A New York City lawyer close to President Roosevelt organized the March of Dimes and collected millions of dollars in coins from grade school children across the country to finance the research effort. The progress was encouraging. By the early 1950s, American scientist Jonas Salk came forward with a brave new idea to eliminate all three strains of polio at once: Grow the polio viruses in the lab, kill them, then inject healthy children with the dead viruses. The dead viruses would not be able to reproduce, so they would not harm the children, but their immune systems would detect the presence of the invading viruses and would rally to defend the body, producing a hefty supply of antibodies in the process. Then the childrens fully armed immune systems would be ready to repel any live poliovirus that attacked them in the future. His trials in 1953 and 1954 were successful. Optimism about Salks vaccine reached its peak.

Five laboratories began producing the vaccine from a procedure Salk designed and accumulated a large enough supply for a mass inoculation, which was scheduled as a celebration for Franklin Roosevelts birthday. The results of years of research, millions of dollars of investment, and the fate of thousands of crippled children were ready for the most publicized and anticipated event in the history of medicine.

At the 11th hour, a bacteriologist at NIH was told to safety-test the new polio vaccine. Her name was Bernice Eddy. When she injected the vaccine into her monkeys, they fell paralyzed in their cages. Eddy realized that the virus in the vaccine was not dead as promised, but still alive and ready to multiply. It was time to sound the alarm. She sent pictures of the paralyzed monkeys to NIHs management and warned them of the upcoming tragedy. A debate erupted in the corridors of power. Was the polio vaccine really ready? Should the mass inoculation proceed on schedule?

A handful of prominent doctors across the country stepped into the fray to throw the weight of their reputations on the side of the vaccine. One of these doctors was Mary Shermans boss, Dr. Alton Ochsner. (Editors note: Mary Sherman is the Mary in the book title and Alton Ochsner was one of the most prominent doctors in New Orleans where the secret monkey virus lab exposed by this book was located.) To demonstrate his conviction that the vaccine was really ready, Dr. Ochsner inoculated his own grandchildren with it.

The mass inoculation proceeded on schedule. Within days, children fell sick from polio, some were crippled, some died. Estimates vary dramatically. (The truth will never be knownTV) Ochsners grandson died. His granddaughter contracted polio but survived. An enormous lawsuit erupted. Heads rolled everywhere. The Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (Oveta Hobby) stepped down. The Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Dr. William Sebrell, resigned. It was the biggest fiasco in medical history. A second, safer vaccine developed by Albert Sabin was deployed. It used a weakened live virus instead of a dead virus. It worked. Polio was history; the future was safeor so it seemed.

Before continuing with this historic information, lets glance at a part of the factual aftermath of the polio vaccine debacle.

As a testimony to what is not known, lawyers have made big money representing victims of polio vaccine, and we have witnessed the two great names in polio vaccineSalk and Sabinpointing fingers at one another. First Dr. Sabin attacked the Salk vaccine, then later the son of Jonas Salk, Dr. Darrell Salk, testified on behalf of a man in Wichita, Kansas who won a jury award of $10 million back in 1982 because the Sabin oral vaccine Orimune, manufactured by Lederle Laboratories caused his paralytic polio.

In case you didnt know about this, the father of an infant daughter, who was immunized with Sabins oral vaccine, contracted irreversible bulbar poliomyelitis paralyzing his lungs 10-12 days after the infants immunization. Lederle was found negligent in not pointing out that non-immunized people faced an increased risk of contracting polio by coming into contact with anyone receiving the oral vaccine.

Most of this information was played down and few Americans know the story of the polio vaccine debacle. Instead, the public has been brainwashed to believe that the Salk and Sabin vaccines were, indeed, wonder drugs of the modern era.

Our history of vaccines does not end with polio, however. Thanks to Haslams investigative work into the secret monkey virus labs operated by the U.S. Government, there is much more vaccine history unfolding.

In the aftermath of the debacle, Bernice Eddy was taken off of polio research and transferred to the influenza section by the thankless NIH management. She shared her frustrations with a small group of women scientists who ate brown-bag lunches on the steps of one of the big labs. There Eddy met a tenacious woman scientist named Sarah Stewart who was waging her own battle against the official paradigms of bureaucratic medicine. Bernice Eddy and Sarah Stewart became close friends.

Sarah Stewarts name remains virtually unknown today despite her huge contribution to modern medicine. Not only did she prove that some cancers were caused by viruses, but subsequent research on the virus she discovered led to the discovery of DNA recombination, which is one of the most powerful tools in medical research today.

Raised in the fertile Rio Grande valley on the Mexican border, Stewarts educational odyssey ranged from the New Mexico Agricultural College in 1927 to getting a PhD in bacteriology from the University of Chicago in 1939. Next, Stewart went to work for the National Institute of Health as a bacteriologist for five years. Believing that having a PhD instead of an MD was holding back her career advancement, she entered Georgetown Medical School and earned her medical degree in 1947. Then she joined the National Cancer Institute and until re-assigned to the U.S. Public Health Service in 1960.

From the beginning, Sarah Stewart promoted the idea that cancer was caused by viruses. Due to this, she was not well accepted by the NIH or NCI staffs, who described her as an eccentric lady determined to prove her theory was right. No one believed her. Finally, she was given access to an NCI laboratory in Bethesda where she could try to prove her theories. In 1953, she almost succeeded, but her work was not accepted by the ruling crowd at NIH. They found her methods sloppy and objected to the fact that she did not culture her viruses. So, in 1956 her lunch partner Bernice Eddy showed Sarah Stewart how to grow her viruses in a culture of mouse cells. She now had all the ingredients she needed and began a series of experiments which are called classic by modern NIH researchers.

As her work progressed, she realized she stood on the edge of an extremely important discovery and became very protective of her techniques. In staff presentations, she would bewilder NIH pathologists by showing them slides of things they had never seen before. Then, when they asked how she produced her results, she would giggle and say its a secret. To quote her supervisor Alan Rabson: She drove everybody crazy. One of her procedural anomalies was that she never did control groups, saying they only confuse you.

In 1957 Stewart and Eddy discovered the polyoma virus, which produced several types of cancer in a variety of small mammals. Polyoma proved that some cancers were indeed caused by viruses. Her discovery officially threw open the doors of cancer virology. As Rabson phrased it: Suddenly the whole place exploded just after Sarah found polyoma. It was the beginning of a new era of hope. But, it raised some dark questions about earlier deeds. Before long, Yales laboratory discovered that the polyoma virus that had produced the cancer in Stewarts mice and hamsters turned out to be virtually identical to Simian Virus #40 (SV-40) a monkey virus that caused cancer.

In June 1959, Bernice Eddy, who was still officially assigned to the flu vaccine project, began thinking about the polio virus again. This time she was worried about something much deeper than polio. The vaccines manufacturers had grown their polio viruses on the kidneys of monkeys. And when they removed the polio virus from the monkeys kidneys, they also removed an unknown number of other monkey viruses. The more they looked, the more they found. The medical science of the day knew little about the behavior or consequences of these monkey viruses. But times were changing. Confronted with mounting evidence that some monkey viruses caused cancer, Eddy grew suspicious of the polio vaccine and asked the excruciating question: Had they inoculated an entire generation of Americans with cancer-causing monkey viruses? She conducted her research quietly, without alerting her NIH supervisors.

In October 1960, Eddy gave a talk to the Cancer Society in New York and without warning NIH in advance announced she had examined cells from the monkey kidneys in which the polio virus was grown and had found they were infected with cancer-causing viruses. Her inference was clear: There were cancer-causing monkey viruses in the polio vaccine! This was tantamount to forecasting an epidemic of cancer in America. When the word got back to her NIH bosses, they exploded in anger. When the cussing stopped, they crushed Bernice Eddy professionally. Any mention of cancer-causing viruses in the polio vaccine was not welcomed by NIH. They took away her lab, destroyed her animals, put her under a gag order, prevented her from attending professional meetings and delayed the publication of her scientific papers. In the words of Edward Shorter, author of The Health Century: Her treatment became a scandal within the scientific community. Later it became the subject of a Congressional inquiry…

A viral specialist named Laura McClelland, working for vaccine developer Maurice Hilleman in Philadelphia, found similar problems in the polio vaccine. The essence of the problem was that SV-40 did not cause cancer in its natural host, an Asian monkey. But what would it do in another primate that had never been exposed to it? One whose immune system had not been sensitized to SV-40? Like Stewart and Eddy, Hilleman knew the population of laboratory animals was hopelessly cross-infected with all sorts of viruses. Monkeys from different continents were frequently caged together. It would be impossible to guarantee that any monkey in the American laboratory population had not been exposed to SV-40 at some point in the past. Hilleman needed clean monkeys caught in the wild. To avoid any last minute contamination, he completely bypassed the commercial animal-importing network. He arranged to have a group of Green monkeys caught in Africa and sent to Philadelphia via Madrid, an airport that normally did not handle any animal traffic. His own drivers picked up the clean monkeys at the Philadelphia airport and brought them directly to the lab.

When injected with SV-40, these clean African Green monkeys developed cancer. Hilleman announced these findings at a medical conference in Copenhagen. But it was not news to the NIH staffers in the audience. The insiders already knew there was a cancer causing virus in the polio vaccine, but they had not announced it. It was the public that did not know. Should the public have been told?

It is difficult for us who have seen the enormous press coverage of AIDS in the 1990s to understand the indolent response of the 1960s press on this subject. Was it really their job to prevent public panic? Did they cower in the face of scientific authority? Were they lazy? Or stupid? Or arrogant? Or, were they told not to run the story by political and economic forces? It is hard to say, but there is evidence the word leaked out anyway.

In the Spring of 1961, one of Eddys co-workers published a medical article which said there was live SV-40 in the polio vaccine. Eddy herself confirmed that the SV-40 monkey virus was causing cancer in hamsters as well as monkeys, proving that it was capable of crossing the zoonotic species barrier. But she was not allowed to release the information until a year later. NIH notified the U.S. Surgeon General that future polio vaccines would be free of SV-40. On July 26, 1961, the New York Times reported two vaccine manufacturers were withdrawing their polio vaccines until they can eliminate a monkey virus. The article ran on page 33 with no mention of cancer. Seven months later, a second article in the Times mentioned the possibility of cancer in the polio vaccine. That article ran on page 27. The story died there, and the specter of an approaching epidemic of cancer silently rose on the horizon.

On the heels of the polio fiasco, the medical hierarchy feared the judgment of the masses. Their ability to destroy a painstakingly constructed scientific career overnight had been clearly proven. Another spate of news might shatter the publics confidence in vaccines altogether. Where would we be then? Where would the public health establishment be then? As SV-40 discoverer Maurice Hilleman put it, the government kept the contamination of the polio vaccine secret to avoid public hysteria.

We are reminded of the scene in Frankenstein when a crowd of superstitious villagers gathered at the castle gate, angrily waving their pitchforks and torches in the air, demanding to know what evil was going on inside the doctors laboratory. To quote the words of polio vaccine developer Albert Sabin: I think to release certain information prematurely is not a public service. Theres too much scaring the public unnecessarily. Oh, your children were injected with a cancer virus and all that. Thats not very good.

Prematurely? Hadnt the mass inoculations already taken place? Hadnt several top scientists, using carefully controlled experiments, established that the problem was real?

Hadnt they announced the results to their peers? Unnecessarily? Wasnt there still time to try to do something about it? Shouldnt someone at least try? Sabin might as well have said: I prefer my tombstone read The vanquisher of polio, and not the father of the great cancer epidemic. His attempt to hide behind the apron of public service is no more than an attempt to avoid both responsibility and the unpleasant experience of facing the angry public. We would all prefer not to be held accountable for our mistakes.

The more important question is: Was Eddys prediction of a cancer epidemic accurate. Did the epidemic happen?

Haslam follows that query with his own answer, and I concurwe have had an epidemic of cancer, especially soft tissue cancers in the past 35 years. We have lost the war on cancer and are continuing to see the numbers of cancer deaths go up by more than 10,000 victims every year.

If you Google the names Bernice Eddy, Sarah Stewart or the others you will find biiographic facts and a statement about polyoma virus and cancer and virtually nothing about the huge controversies; one of the links to polio vaccine plagiarizes some of Haslams expose without citing him.

This is a sad legacy for the compulsory vaccine propaganda machine and you wont be hearing a lot about it. My point is this: the next time you hear that vaccines have wiped out disease, at least ask them to prove it.

(To buy Haslams book check