New Study Disproves Polio Vaccine Theory


Joey G. Alarilla, Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 16, 2000

© 2000 Philippine Daily Inquirer

IS the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome epidemic the result of a contaminated polio vaccine? No, according to new tests debunking this theory originally posed in the late ’80s, which has been revived by a book published last year.

As reported in the HealthSCOUT feature of Yahoo! Health News, a new study independently conducted in three separate laboratories disproves the assertion that AIDS was inadvertently spread by contaminated polio shots administered to patients in the Belgian Congo in the ’50s.

The test results were presented at a meeting earlier this week among AIDS experts in London.


The polio vaccine theory has been revived with the publication last year of journalist Edward Hooper’s book, “The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV & AIDS.” In this book, Hooper investigated the possible link between tainted polio shots and the appearance of AIDS in the Belgian Congo. The first recorded AIDS case occurred in 1959, and the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is related to simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) found, for instance, in chimpanzees.

According to the polio vaccine theory, scientists at the Philadelphia-based Wistar Institute, led by Dr. Hilary Koprowski, might have used tissue from SIV-infected chimpanzees for the polio immunization shots administered in the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi during the late ’50s. This was part of a public health drive.

The Wistar Institute scientists have denied that chimpanzee cells were used to make the polio vaccine, and the latest study would seem to bear out their claims.

Test results

Based on the test conducted independently by three laboratories, the vaccine samples were not contaminated by HIV-1 (the main AIDS virus strain) or any SIV. Also, the tests revealed that the genetic material did not come from chimpanzees but rather from Asian macaque monkeys. This species has not been linked to AIDS.

The scientists at the three independent laboratories that conducted the test were not told the origins of the samples. Each laboratory tested 26 samples, which included both the ’50s polio vaccine from the Wistar Institute as well as polio vaccine from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

HIV variants

While theories on the origin of AIDS have come and gone since its discovery in 1983, the evidence shows that it first appeared in Africa. As posted online at the AIDS Medical Encyclopedia of the University of California at San Francisco at, two distinct HIV variants have so far been identified. HIV-1 is responsible for the worldwide AIDS epidemic while the less virulent HIV-2 has mainly been confined to West Africa, though the site noted that it also seems to be making an appearance recently in some Asian countries.

To this day, medical research still has not conclusively traced the origin of AIDS, though HIV seems to be closely related to SIVs. In fact, a theory first proposed in the early ’80s by scientist Robert Gallo, though discredited, is still popularly subscribed to today. Gallo had suggested that AIDS crossed the species through human contact with an African green monkey, and up to today many believe that cross-species contact was responsible for the spread of the virus to humans.

Interestingly enough, HIV-2 is almost exactly similar to a virus found in the African monkey known as the sooty mangabey, while the closest counterpart to HIV-1 discovered so far may be found in chimpanzees. It is believed that the HIV strains had a common ancestor and diverged sometime before the 1940s. Some researchers, however, believe that the jump from primates to humans might have occurred as early as 1915 or as late as 1941, based on computer models simulating how long it would take for HIV to mutate into what it is today.

As always, controversy surrounds AIDS and its origins, and in fact, a small group of scientists as well as HIV activists still firmly believe that HIV does not cause and necessarily develop into full-blown AIDS.

Whatever the true origin of AIDS and whatever new evidence might be uncovered, it seems we can lay the contaminated polio vaccine theory to rest-for now, at least.