Hilary Koprowski: NY Times Obituary

The New York Times

April 21, 2013 Sunday

Hilary Koprowski Dies at 96; Developed First Live-Virus Polio Vaccine

Margalit Fox

It was a brew to rival any in ”Macbeth.” The main ingredients were rat brain and a fearsome, carefully cultivated virus.

In his laboratory in Pearl River, N.Y., 20 miles north of Manhattan, Dr. Hilary Koprowski macerated the ingredients in an ordinary kitchen blender one January day in 1948. He poured the result — thick, cold, gray and greasy — into a beaker, lifted it to his lips and drank. It tasted, he later said, like cod liver oil.

With that sip, Dr. Koprowski, a virologist who died on April 11 at 96, inoculated himself against polio, years before the vaccines of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin.

Dr. Koprowski was one of the world’s foremost biomedical researchers, helping usher in a spate of innovations, including a safer, less painful and more effective rabies vaccine that remains widely used. Continue reading “Hilary Koprowski: NY Times Obituary”

Hilary Koprowski: The Independent Obituary

The Independent (London)

April 18, 2013 Thursday

Dr Hilary Koprowski; Virologist who developed the first oral vaccine against polio

Phil Davison

A Polish Jew who had fled the Nazi invasion and settled in the US, Hilary Koprowski developed the first oral vaccine against poliomyelitis, the infant paralysis which swept across North America, the British Isles and beyond in the postwar years, causing death or disability. To demonstrate faith in his research in 1948, he swallowed a cocktail including the ground-up brain of a rat which had been deliberately infected with the polio virus. He showed no ill-effects from the dose, which was still a “live” virus, though “attenuated” or reduced, then tested it on child inmates of an institution for the physically or mentally disabled in New York. Although it is almost inconceivable that such tests could be allowed today, they proved a medical success in that the children suffered no ill-effects.

Continue reading “Hilary Koprowski: The Independent Obituary”

Hilary Koprowski: The Daily Telegraph Obituary

The Daily Telegraph (London)

April 16, 2013 Tuesday

Hilary Koprowski; Virologist who pioneered the first successful oral vaccine against polio

HILARY KOPROWSKI, who has died aged 96, developed the first successful oral vaccine against polio, but lost out in the race to gain an official licence.

The competition to find a polio vaccine began in 1938, when Franklin D Roosevelt (himself stricken with the disease) founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Jonas Salk, who would develop the first injectable vaccine, concentrated on dead polio virus. Koprowski, though, reasoned that a live but weakened (or attenuated) form of the virus would more closely mimic an actual polio infection.

Many scientists were wary of using the live virus, fearing that even in its weakened state it might still be dangerous. But in January 1948 Koprowski gulped down a preparation made with ground-up cotton-rat brain infected with attenuated polio virus. He survived, and two years later 20 boys and girls at a home for children with learning difficulties were given doses of the same mixture, with no ill effects. Continue reading “Hilary Koprowski: The Daily Telegraph Obituary”

Koprowski Passes On, But Others Repeat the Same Old Untruths About How AIDS Began

There has been a remarkably low-key response by the medical community to the passing of Dr Hilary Koprowski. Five days have passed, and the only reports that I have seen to date are the Associated Press report already mentioned (which has been used by the New York Times, the Huffington Post and others), and an article by Stacey Burling in the Philadelphia Inquirer, entitled “Hilary Koprowski, Polio Vaccine Pioneer, Dead at 96”.

Koprowski lived in a well-to-do suburb on the outskirts of Philadelphia for most of his final 56 years, so this is effectively his home-town newspaper.

The latter article, whilst featuring a largely accurate account of Koprowski’s life, also contained the following paragraph, which is factually inaccurate throughout.

“A discredited theory blamed clinical trials of his [Koprowski’s] polio vaccine in the Congo for providing the bridge from chimps to humans for the AIDS virus. Scientific experts conclusively debunked the theory in 2001.”

In reality, the so-called oral polio vaccine (or OPV) theory of origin of AIDS has never been discredited or debunked, though many in the medical community would apparently like to believe that it has been.

In reality, each of the alleged “disproofs” of the OPV theory is phoney. Continue reading “Koprowski Passes On, But Others Repeat the Same Old Untruths About How AIDS Began”

Hilary Koprowski: The Philadelphia Inquirer Obituary

The Philadelphia Inquirer

April 14, 2013 Sunday

Hilary Koprowski, polio vaccine pioneer, dead at 96

Stacey Burling

Hilary Koprowski, a virologist and former director of the Wistar Institute who developed the first polio vaccine and helped improve the rabies vaccine for humans, has died.

Koprowski, who was 96 and had been in declining health in recent months, died Thursday of pneumonia at his home in Wynnewood, according to his son Christopher Koprowski, chief of radiation oncology at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at the Christiana Care Health System.

“Hilary Koprowski left an enduring mark on medical science and the health of humankind, and his many accomplishments serve as a testament to his legacy,” said Russel E. Kaufman, president and chief executive officer of the Wistar Institute. Continue reading “Hilary Koprowski: The Philadelphia Inquirer Obituary”

The Death of Hilary Koprowski

It has just been announced that Dr Hilary Koprowski died on Thursday April 11th, at the age of 96.

The first report I have seen comes from The Huffington Post, and at the head of the following comments we learn that “HuffPo is filtering out the justifiable controversy surrounding this mans career.” It will be interesting to see what sort of coverage Koprowski’s death engenders elsewhere in the coming days.


As many readers of this site will know, Dr Koprowski has been a focus of my investigations for the last 20 or more years. There is much that remains to be told about his activities in Africa in the late 1950s. But clearly this is not the right moment.

I realise that Dr Koprowski’s family and friends will be grieving his loss, so let me offer my condolences to them.

Ed Hooper April 14, 2013

More Mumbo Jumbo from the Wrongo Congo

Review of Spillover, by David Quammen; [The Bodley Head; 2012]

Gentle reader, beware! Do not believe all that you read in this book.

First things first. David Quammen is a master story-teller, and Spillover (even if weakly-titled) is very well written. Moreover, it is hard to argue with its central premises – that zoonoses (diseases that humans acquire from animals) crop up all the time, that in an era of jet travel the pathogens that cause zoonoses find it far easier than before to spread around the world, and that among them might be “The Big One” – the pathogen that causes a killer pandemic that cuts a horrible swathe through the world’s population.

This book follows on from others such as The Coming Plague, that very readable (although lamentably error-strewn) 1994 tome from Laurie Garrett, who some years later graduated from being a “Newsday” reporter to a Council for Foreign Relations fellow convening conferences on AIDS.

What interests me most in Spillover is the chapter on the origin of AIDS that takes up almost the last quarter of the book. And here we see that Quammen (like others before him) has apparently been seduced by the people who promote the “bushmeat” or “cut hunter” theory, which has over the last ten years become pretty much the official explanation for how AIDS came into being. There are many reasons for doubting this version of events[for a few of them, see below],but Quammen swallows all of them whole. Continue reading “More Mumbo Jumbo from the Wrongo Congo”

NYT Letter: Polio Campaigns

Sent to letters page of NYT on 25/12/2012, but not printed:

Letter to the editor, regarding “Getting Polio Campaigns Back on Track” by Donald McNeil; Dcember 25th, 2012.


Donald McNeil’s article on the apparent Taliban threat to the global polio eradication programme is spoilt by two inaccuracies. He asserts that my 1999 book “The River” is responsible for false rumours that modern polio vaccines are contaminated by HIV, and he claims that the central theory in the book has been “discredited”. I pursued the allegations that Kenyans and Nigerians had refused polio vaccine because of my book, and I found that they were based on newspaper articles that didn’t exist. Moreover, I have always stressed that, as far as is known, modern polio vaccines are safe. By contrast, I proposed in “The River” that the AIDS pandemic had been sparked by an experimental oral polio vaccine (OPV) that had been prepared locally in chimpanzee cells and then administered to a million Africans in the late 1950s. The growing tendency in science journals and recent books to assert that the OPV theory of AIDS origin has been refuted, and to enshrine the alternative bushmeat theory as fact, suggests an organised campaign of discrediting and misinformation. The latter theory proposes that the pandemic started when a bushmeat hunter or seller was exposed to infected chimp blood in south-eastern Cameroon around 1908, thus sparking an epidemic in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), 500 miles away, which went unnoticed for 70-odd years. There is no hard evidence to support it: only phylogenetic theory based on a dubious model. By contrast with this shoddy science, the evidence for the OPV theory only strengthens.

Edward Hooper

Some Glimmer of Light, Perhaps, At The End Of The Tunnel?

Two new books and a flurry of new articles have recently appeared about the “origins of AIDS”, plus a third conference on the subject has been staged…..

Some Glimmer of Light, Perhaps, At The End Of The Tunnel?

I shall use this blog to address five new developments in the origins of AIDS debate.

The first three, sadly, are the same old same old, even if they sometimes reveal just how desperate some of the “1908 Cameroonian Bushmeat” group have become. But the last two may contain some positive developments. Continue reading “Some Glimmer of Light, Perhaps, At The End Of The Tunnel?”

The Air-Brushing of History

Two new books about the origins of AIDS tell it like it wasn’t

In recent months (October 2011 and March 2012) two new books about the origins of AIDS have been released: The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pepin, and Tinderbox by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. Both books have enjoyed generally positive reviews in the scientific and lay press.

Both volumes start off with the assumption that the oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of AIDS origin has been disproved and that the bushmeat origin theory is now proven.

I have examined both of the texts with some care (at least the parts that cover origins, rather than the early spread of HIV), and have followed up on some of the key supporting references cited in these books. What I have discovered leads me to conclusions that are dramatically different from those of Pepin, Timberg and Halperin. Apart from the questionable assumptions that underpin both books, what is quickly clear is the number of factual and logical errors that each contains in key parts of their origins histories.

It is my belief, indeed conviction, that neither of the origins accounts detailed in these books is valid, and that neither book stands up to scrutiny.

One wonders whether the blunders in The Origins of AIDS and Tinderbox are the result of a series of unfortunate accidents – or whether there is something else going on here. Could this be carefully choreographed misinformation? It is worth noting that none of the three authors ever bothered to contact me – either to seek my views or to challenge them. By contrast, I have always sought to interview everyone who is available who might be relevant to this subject – a total of well over 700 interviewees to date.

After thinking about this for some time, I have to say that I suspect that both books have an agenda: that of trying to enshrine the bushmeat theory as the only surviving theory of how AIDS came into being.

If I am right about this, then this represents an important new stage in the origins of AIDS controversy. The rather crude techniques being used bring to mind those group photographs of Soviet leaders in the 1940s and 1950s in which unwanted and inconvenient people (such as Joe Stalin’s enemies) suddenly disappeared from the frame, airbrushed
away. As with people in the forties and fifties, so with ideas today.

It is worth noting that Jacques Pepin’s book even takes the title of The Origins of AIDS. This might be coincidence, or it might be an attempt to expunge from the record the multiple award-winning film of exactly the same name (the one that examined and commended the OPV theory). Since the film version of The Origins of AIDS was released in 2003 (and, among other things, was short-listed for an International Emmy), a concerted campaign has been staged to try to limit its availability, either at film festivals, as a DVD, or as a film broadcast on TV.

So is this airbrushing of history a cause for dismay? In my opinion the fact that the bushmeat supporters have finally stuck their heads above the parapet, to put forward their scenario (actually two somewhat conflicting scenarios, but let’s leave that for now) of how AIDS came into being is actually a positive development. Previously their hypothesis was so amorphous that it was hard to pin down, and therefore hard to defeat. It was like battling a puff of smoke.

Now, at long last they have nailed their colours to the mast, and committed their own versions of history to paper. (I am so moved that I have begun to mix metaphors…)

So by all means read these two books. And by all means read my reviews of them, below. And then make up your own minds.

My own suspicion is that the stories told in each of these books are only designed to hold up for a few years, until hopefully (from the perspective of the bushmeat believers) they can come up with something a bit more plausible. This is reminiscent of cigarette manufacturers in the 60s and 70s who kept searching for amenable scientists who would be willing to publish papers attesting that smoking was safe. Those big companies knew they wouldn’t win the war. But if they could win a few more battles, last out a few more years, then this ensured a few additional billions in the bank.

So I do not see the latest bushmeat offensive as a cause for disillusionment or downheartedness – indeed, rather the opposite. The wilder the blows, the easier it is to dodge them – and the more one senses that the opposition is getting rattled.

It turns out that both books have been written in close collaboration with members of the bushmeat movement. In the more scholarly work by Pepin, this is not made clear, but I have learnt this through the grapevine, from someone who happened to talk with one of the author’s advisors. In Tinderbox, a glance at the Acknowledgements section quickly reveals who have been the main sources for the book, and they include several of the usual suspects from the bushmeat camp, such as Beatrice Hahn and Michael Worobey, the very same persons who are most lavishly praised in the pages that follow.

This posting includes my reviews of each book.

It also, at the request of some of the regular readers of this web-site, includes a Quick Guide to the origins debate: what the bushmeat theory and the OPV theory are proposing, and whether the alleged refutations of the OPV theory that are often quoted by bushmeat supporters are scientifically sound.

I recognise that my postings on this site are often quite detailed (even, it might be said, quite lengthy), so I have attempted to boil this Guide down to the bare bones, which in this instance is a bit under five pages….provided one prints up in a suitably small font!

Finally, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to any of these pieces by providing suggestions or information, as well as those several trusted advisors who have read and commented on the drafts. Many of these persons are professors of medicine, science, or of other fields such as law. I have decided that these people will remain unnamed, not least because the debate has now become so acrimonious that in some instances at least, honest input can only be provided if it remains anonymous.

Ed Hooper, 25th April, 2012

The remainder of this posting is in three parts:

  1. The Origins of the AIDS Pandemic. A Quick Guide to The Principal Theories and the Alleged Refutations.
  2. Review of The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pepin. [C.U.P. 2011]
  3. Review of Tinderbox by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. [Penguin USA; 2012]