NYT Letter: Hilary Koprowski

Sent to the Letters page of the NYT on 22/4/2013, but not printed…

Letter to the editor: re “Hilary Koprowski, Who Developed First Live-Virus Polio Vaccine, Dies at 96”, by Margalit Fox; (4/20/13).


Margalit Fox’s obituary of Hilary Koprowski (April 20, 2013) claims the theory that his oral polio vaccine (OPV) sparked the AIDS pandemic has been “discredited”. This is untrue. In 2001 Belgian and Congolese ex-workers from the medical laboratory at Stanleyville, Belgian Congo, and the nearby chimpanzee facility at Lindi Camp, where 500 chimpanzees were sacrificed in 42 months, reported that chimpanzee kidneys and blood had been used in the late 1950s to prepare local batches of Koprowski’s OPV. Such batches were fed to one million Africans, but (unlike US-made batches) they were never tested for HIV-1. Similarly, the other claims allegedly “disproving” the OPV theory are based on faulty assertions and questionable hypotheses. The ancestral host to the immediate ancestor of HIV-1 is a chimpanzee subspecies (Pan troglodytes troglodytes, Ptt) that, it is alleged, was not found at Lindi Camp, but I have recently demonstrated that Ptt chimps were present there. The theoretical claim that HIV-1 first existed in 1908 is unsafe; it emanates from a mutation-based model which is inappropriate for lentiviruses, which evolve mainly through recombination. The earliest HIV-1 samples are from 1959 and 1960, and come from Leopoldville, Belgian Congo. Koprowski’s Congolese OPV trials began in 1957.

Edward Hooper