HIV’s Link to Polio Vaccine Doubted

Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY, September 12, 2000

© 2000 Gannett Company, Inc.

Tests of polio vaccine stored for nearly half a century undercut the notion that the AIDS virus leapt from monkeys to man through polio shots given to African children in the 1950s, experts said Monday.

This theory, exhaustively detailed by British author Edward Hooper in his book, The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS, (Little Brown, 1999), holds that a precursor of the human AIDS virus, HIV, may have entered polio vaccine from infected chimpanzee kidneys that were used to grow polio virus for use in the vaccine.

The controversial book aroused fears that a vaccination campaign caused an epidemic that has afflicted more than 50 million people. It focused on chimp tissue because chimps carry a monkey version of the AIDS virus, thought to be a forerunner of HIV. Instead, the polio vaccine was made using tissue from Asian macaque monkeys, which don’t carry an AIDS virus.

“We now know that the events postulated by Mr. Hooper did not happen,” says Stanley Plotkin of the University of Pennsylvania, who worked with the vaccine’s developer, Hillary Koprowski, at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

Three independent labs selected by a committee of prominent AIDS researchers tested vaccine samples stored at Wistar. One of the batches tested was left over from the vaccine effort in what was then the Belgian Congo; the rest were made about the same time, using the same procedures. “There is nothing in the results from these tests to support the theory that HIV entered the human population during the late 1950s polio virus clinical trials in Africa,” says lead investigator Claudio Basilico of New York University Medical Center.

The tests failed to find HIV, a monkey AIDS virus or any other evidence that the vaccine contained a virus capable of crippling the human immune system, Basilico told a meeting of the Royal Society in London.

Hooper acknowledged the tests’ validity but refused to abandon his position, saying that he has found new evidence that he’s correct.

“I think we shouldn’t be so ready to believe that our scientists know all the answers,” Hooper told reporters in London.