Part of Chapter Two of Fear of the Invisible -
Our investigation continues into why monkey viruses contaminated widely used Polio Vaccines - and may still be contaminating them.
In Washington we made our way through a maze of laboratories to the Natcher Auditorium where we found assembled over two hundred scientists from around the world. The media were also present -from France, Canada, the UK and the USA, but when Dr Kathryn Zoom, the head of the FDA division that licenses vaccines as safe, said she preferred the media to leave its questions to the press conference at the end, most journalists promptly vanished, not to reappear until this press conference. As far as I could see it was only one UK journalist and ourselves who stayed to listen first-hand to what the scientists had found - and to ask our own questions at every drink or meal break.
Thus most of the press missed an incredible event. One after one that morning, scientists from around the world got onto the stage to shock us with what they had found. They had discovered this monkey virus, SV40, in children's brain tumours and adults' mesotheliomas - the last being the deadly lung-lining cancer previously associated solely with asbestos. It seemed the more they looked, the more they found it in other types of human cancers - but not in the surrounding healthy tissues.
And, when we asked from where did they think this virus came, most said it surely had to be from the polio vaccine.
One of the leading speakers, Dr. Michele Carbone, set out their results. ‘Sixty-two papers from thirty laboratories from around the world have reported SV40 in human tissues and tumours, ... 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.' After he had finished, I was dismayed to hear scientists from leading laboratories confirm what he had said, by telling how they had found SV40 in over 80% of some childhood brain tumours, in 85% of deadly mesotheliomas, in about 25% of bone cancers - and in 40% of spermal fluid from a small sample of apparently healthy males!
But not all the scientists present were in agreement. Dr Keerti Shah stood up bravely as the only one who could not find the virus in cancers, no matter how hard he looked. He thus doubted that it had caused any cancers. He suggested all the others had mistaken laboratory contamination for the virus. Nevertheless he calculated that 98 million Americans had been dosed with the SV40 contaminated vaccines. There followed a spirited discussion about why only he could not find SV40. Some suggested that he had used out-of-date methods. I was told he had never done this kind of work before.
But surprisingly Shah alone had been scheduled in advance to speak twice that first morning, as both the first and the final speaker. The second time he spoke about statistical research undertaken with Drs. Howard Strickler and James Goedert, two government epidemiologists, They reported finding no significant increase in cancers among the vaccinated, as compared to the unvaccinated - but the validity of their research clearly depended upon them having found a population not exposed to SV40. Their assumptions regarding this were dubious, according to their critics, given how widely the vaccine was distributed.
As this controversy continued, I realised that we had plunged unaware into the midst of a scientific tempest. After the SV40 researchers presented their papers, the chairperson summed up the discussion as if between two evenly matched scientific teams. Yet as far as I could see, on one side there was evidence from many - and on the other, only one experimenter plus some inconclusive statistics. But I soon learnt that Shah was not as isolated as he seemed. The medical authorities were backing him, thus allowing him to box above his weight.
Chief among his defenders was Dr Robin Weiss from London, one of the UK's top HIV experts and a leading light in the UK's virology establishment. It soon emerged that Weiss had taken a major role in organising this meeting along with Drs. Shah, Goedert and Strickler, and they had prepared in advance a proposal they wanted the meeting to endorse.
Strickler was very delicate in making this proposition. He stated: ‘my suggestion is that, in the face of the uncertainty of the data, that what we really need is an exquisitely controlled third-party study.' It was only later that we learnt this key study was to be headed by him; that he would be ‘the third party'. It has been arranged that he would be the judge on everyone else's experiments, or so it seemed.
At the time, I missed much of the ‘behind-the-stage' politics. But I was new to this. I could only judge the issues based on the evidence presented - and for me the case was overwhelming. Multiple well-reputed laboratories had found SV40 in human cancers - and their scientists thought it was a monkey virus that invaded humans through the release of a contaminated polio vaccine.
Then came the final press conference. It was presided over by Dr Weiss with, to my surprise, scientists who had mostly played a minor role in the workshop. They told the press that there was no reason to have any concern over SV40 infection. They did not stress the dramatic links to cancer reported at the conference. They blithely assured the press that nothing had been reported that they needed to worry about. One even said he would happily ingest SV40, as it was not dangerous. It was a complete misrepresentation, leaving the press with nothing.
That evening when watching the news, I discovered the NIH had issued a press release at the same time on an entirely different matter that boosted its reputation, and it was this that had grabbed the news. There was no mention of the quite terrifying research presented at the NIH emergency workshop - or of the medical negligence in the making the polio vaccine that surely must lie behind this catastrophe. I ruefully thought it a very fine sample of spin.
But for me, the workshop had not been a total disappointment. It had given me the opportunity to meet with the top scientists involved with vaccine safety - and what I learnt from them outside the scheduled sessions was completely fascinating. I also met a lawyer who had spoken briefly at one session, Stanley Kops, who turned out to hold many documents acquired through legal actions that proved SV40 continued to contaminate the polio vaccine well past the date when this was supposed to have stopped.
I met also with Professor John Martin, who held the chair of pathology at the University of Southern California. He told me he was sure other monkey viruses must have been in the vaccine alongside SV40. He had tracked down one of these; it was cytomegalovirus (SCMV) from African Green Monkeys, another species used in making the polio vaccine. He suspected it as having a role in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This was getting even more horrifying. SV40 might only be the tip of the iceberg. If one monkey virus got in, scores of others might have got in too.
How could this happen? Dr Maurice Hilleman, whom I had interviewed previously about MMR, made a presentation at the workshop on how they had found SV40 in the polio vaccine back in 1961! He explained our childhood polio vaccine was made of poliovirus grown in incubators in a soup of mashed kidneys taken from thousands of wild-caught monkeys. It was thus very easy for a monkey virus to get into the vaccine. I resolved to investigate why such an obviously hazardous method of making the polio vaccine had been adopted. Was it that there were no alternatives?
Then Professor Martin totally shocked me by saying there was a very real danger that HIV also may have contaminated the polio vaccine, since it too was originally a monkey virus, - and the health authorities had long known of this danger! I was told that in 1988, without telling the public, they had quietly ordered the polio vaccine to be in future screened for HIV contamination - some 33 years after the vaccine's launch, and after it had been given to millions of children. This was clearly a case of bolting the door far too late. Was this carelessness the reason why the HIV epidemic had spread so fast? The dates seemed to be right. AIDS was first reported in the States in 1981. I started to plan to make a major investigative documentary on the polio vaccine and HIV, as a follow-up for our documentary on SV40.
continued.. We were shockingly to discover that the vaccines were never purified.
Carbone has more recently had this study published: Gazdar AF, Carbone M., Molecular pathogenesis of malignant mesothelioma and its relationship to simian virus 40. Clin Lung Cancer. 2003 Nov;5(3):177-81
One of these reports was by a Dr Butel, who afterwards had published: Butel JS, et al., Molecular evidence of simian virus 40 infections in children. J Infect Dis. 1999 Sep;180(3):884-7. Also
Vilchez RA, Butel JS., SV40 in human brain cancers and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Oncogene. 2003 Aug 11;22(33):5164-72
Also see Hilleman MR. History, precedent, and progress in the development of mammalian cell culture systems for preparing vaccines: safety considerations revisited. J Med Virol 1990 May;31(1):5-12. PMID 2198327.