Four Studies Refute Theory That HIV Entered Humans Via Polio Vaccine
The theory that HIV was introduced in humans by an experimental 1950s polio vaccine that used chimpanzee tissue infected with SIV "has been firmly debunked" by four independent groups of researchers, the Canadian Globe and Mail reports. The polio vaccine theory was first brought to light in a 1992 Rolling Stone article and was then expanded by former BBC journalist Edward Hooper in a 1999 book, titled "The River: A Journey Back to the Source of HIV and AIDS." After the book "caused a furor," the Wistar Institute, makers of the 1950s vaccine, turned over frozen samples of the original vaccine to four "world-renowned" laboratories. The results of these studies are published this week in the journals Science and Nature (Picard, Globe and Mail, 4/26).
Consensus Debunks Theory
Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France, the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control in England and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany each independently found that all of the nonhuman primate DNA in the vaccine samples came from Asian Macaque monkeys, which do not carry SIV. A fourth study refuted a second theory set forth by Hooper. The Washington Post reports that HIV samples collected in recent years from around the world "suggest the virus has numerous lineages that appeared more or less simultaneously." Hooper said that this phenomenon could have occurred "only if already-different strains of HIV entered human beings at the same time, as might have happened with contaminated vaccines." However, Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford, analyzed nearly 200 HIV samples from the Congo and discovered virus from "all the lineages, and from many sublineages between them," suggesting that "all Congo AIDS viruses -- and therefore all of the world's -- slowly evolved from a single common ancestor, not numerous ancestors." Holmes said, "There is not one piece of hard evidence in favor of the polio vaccination theory."
An 'Ugly Theory'
Hilary Koprowski, the 84-year-old physician and immunologist who developed the experimental vaccine with the Wistar Institute between 1957 and 1960, said, "The day of reckoning has come. There was no contamination. It was pure speculation. I think this should finish it" (Brown, Washington Post, 4/26). Koprowski added, "What bothered me was that somehow this may have created a difficulty in eradicating polio. With these articles putting an end to any possibility that vaccination had anything to do with AIDS, I hope that the (polio) eradication campaign will be (successfully completed) in two to three years." Robin Weiss, an immunologist at University College in London, wrote in a Nature editorial, "Some beautiful facts have destroyed an ugly theory," adding that the "new data may not convince the hardened conspiracy theorist who thinks that contamination of (the vaccine) was subsequently and deliberately covered up. But those of us who were formerly willing to give some credence to the ... hypothesis will now consider that the matter has been laid to rest" (Maugh, Los Angeles Times, 4/26). While the "ultimate cause of the world's most insidious pandemic may remain a mystery forever," the London London Independent notes that the prevailing theory is that the virus "jumped" from chimpanzees when humans in Africa hunted the animal and became infected through a "bite or scratch" from infected animals or through consuming chimpanzee tissue. Many theorize that the rapid spread of HIV during the past 50 years can be explained by the rapid social upheaval during that time -- "[i]ncreased movements of people, the building of roads and railways and the urbanization of the traditional rural way of life in Africa." While the polio vaccination campaign may not have shuttled the virus from chimps to humans, it may have contributed to the spread of the virus among humans, the Independent states, saying that the "extensive use of reusable needles and syringes in mass-vaccination campaigns may also have played a part" in spreading the virus (Connor, London Independent, 4/26). Hooper is reportedly in Africa continuing to research his polio vaccine theory (Washington Post, 4/26).