Public health officials in the United States today recommend that infants in the U.S. receive four doses of an inactivated, injectable polio vaccine (IAV) using chicken egg embryos, dog kidney cells or insect cells for production.1 However, between 1961 and 1999, most American children swallowed five doses of live oral polio vaccine (OPV) using monkey kidney cells for production.
In 1961, the live attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV)—developed by Albert Sabin, MD—was licensed and soon public health officials recommended that all infants and children be given OPV instead of the inactivated IAV—developed by Jonas Salk, MD—which had been licensed in 1955 and widely used. OPV contains three vaccine strain polioviruses given orally by liquid drops in the mouth and public health officials adopted it as the preferred polio vaccine because OPV not only vaccinated the recipient but also “passively” vaccinated those coming in close contact with a recently vaccinated child shedding vaccine strain live polioviruses in the stool, saliva and nasal secretions.2
Contamination of OPV Seed Stocks
To create both inactivated and live poliovirus vaccines, Drs. Salk and Sabin used primary cell cultures from monkey kidneys to attenuate the polioviruses. However, one of the monkeys used, the rhesus macaque monkey, asymptomatically carried an undetected simian (monkey) virus that could infect and cause cancerous tumors in hamsters and other animals. In 1959, researchers discovered that infectious SV40 had been contaminating the Salk vaccine and early batches of OPV that had been given to more than 100 million people worldwide between 1954 and 1961.3
After this discovery, vaccine manufacturers switched to using African green monkey kidney cells to make polio vaccines. [Unlike rhesus monkeys, African green monkeys are not natural hosts of SV40, although African green monkeys and other species, like chimpanzees, can be asymptomatically infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)].4 5
SV40 is a DNA tumor virus and, like other DNA tumor viruses, is not usually cancer causing in a natural host (such as rhesus monkeys) but becomes more oncogenic when it crosses species into other animals or humans. DNA tumor viruses also have an affinity for certain cell types. For example, human mesothelial (lung) cells appear to be particularly susceptible to malignant transformation in the presence of SV40.6
Although it was assumed by doctors administering OPV to children and parents of children swallowing OPV that vaccine manufacturers had removed live SV40 from OPV seed stocks after 1961, in the past decade scientists have confirmed that some of the Sabin polio vaccine seed stocks were contaminated with infectious SV40 until at least 1978.7
SV40 Associated with Human Brain, Bone, Lung Cancers
In 1998, studies were published in the medical literature warning that SV40 was being detected in human brain, bone and lung tumors in children and adults, as well as in 45 percent of sperm from healthy people. Researchers concluded that “multiple SV40 strains can infect humans”8 and that SV40 infection may be spread by “blood transfusion and sexual transmission in the human population.”9
By 2003, SV40 had been detected in human tumors in more than 40 different laboratories and the Institute of Medicine had published a report stating that “the biological evidence is of moderate strength that SV40 exposure from the polio vaccines is related to SV40 infection in humans.”10
However, between 1998 and 2005, a series of studies were published denying that SV40 plays any role in the development of human cancer and minimizing the significance of the presence of SV40 in humans.11 U.S. public health officials have acknowledged that live SV40 did contaminate both inactivated and live polio vaccines between 1955 and 1963 but continue to deny that the monkey virus infecting humans is causing human cancers.12
1 National Vaccine Information Center. Influenza and Influenza Vaccines. NVIC.org.
2 McKenna M. Polio Vaccination May Continue After Wild Virus Fades. CIDRAP Oct. 16, 2008.
3 Bookchin D, Schumacher J. The virus and the vaccine. St. Martin’s Press 2004
4 Jacquelin B, Mayau V, Targat B et al. Nonpathogenic SIV Infection of African green monkeys induces a strong but rapidly controlled type 1 IFN response. J Clin Invest 2009; 118(12): 3544-3555.
5 Rudicell RS, Jones JH, Wroblewski EE et al. Impact of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus Infection in Chimpanzee Population Dynamics. PLOS Pathogens Sept. 23, 2010.
6 Cutrone r, Lednicky J, Dunn G et al. Some Oral Poliovirus Vaccines Were Contaminated with Infectious SV40 after 1961. Cancer Res 2005; 65: 10273-10279.
8 Butel JS, Jafar S, Stewart AR, Lednicky JA. Detection of authentic SV40 DNA sequences in human brain and bone tumours. Dev Biol Stand 1998; 94: 23-32.
9 Martini F, Lazzarin L, Iaccheri L et al. Simian virus 40 footprints in normal human tissues, brain and bone tumors of different histotypes. Dev Biol Stand 1998; 94: 55-66.
10 Carbone M, Pass HI, Miele L, Bocchetta M. New developments about the association of SV40 with human mesothelioma. Oncogene 2003; 22: 5173-5180.
11 Lundstig A, Eliasson L, Lehtinen M et al. Prevalence and stability of human serum antibodies to simian virus 40 VP1 virus like particles. J Gen Virol 2005; 86(6): 1703-1708
12 Goedert J. Research on SV40 Exposure and the Development of Cancer. NIH Testimony: Subcommittee on Wellness and Human Rights, U.S. Committee on Government Reform. Sept. 10, 2003.