Seeds of Doom - Chapter 7
Story of a controversial theory about the origin of AIDS
Chapter 7: Finale
The final refutation of the OPV/AIDS theory was based on the analysis of Koprowski's old vaccines. But where did they come from? The tests were finally made on the eve of the Royal Society conference, 8 years after the Wistar panel had declined to carry out the testing because it would have been "laborious, expensive and ... inconclusive"<ref name="ftn135">Koprowski had written in his letter to "Science" that "there is no vaccine stored at the Wistar Institute, but there are a few vials of tissue culture supernatants available that may represent seed lots used for production of vaccines in the years 1957 to 1959." (KOPROWSKI, H., Science , 1992). In the same period, the Wistar Institute panel report concluded that "[o]f the samples presently existing at the Wistar Institute, only one has been identified as being possibly directly relevant to the Congo trials. Several other samples were prepared around those times, but may never have been used in the 1957 vaccine trials. In sum, the total number of samples (also considering the amount of material available) worth testing is quite limited". And then again "testing of a master seed or related vaccines will not be sufficient, as the contamination with SIV (if any) would be likely to have occurred during the preparation of the actual vaccine lots used".</ref>. But did their results really in fact represent an "exoneration of the polio vaccines"? It is evident that of those samples, whose existence was discovered by Curtis in 1992<ref name="ftn136">(HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 251-2, which summarises Curtis' articles in the "Houston Post".</ref>, only one in eight might have been related to those used in the Congo - perhaps none of them, because they were probably from original batches and in that case produced prior to amplification in chimpanzee kidneys. And anyway the theory did not predict that all of the vaccines were contagious, nor even that all of the batches were contaminated. And after 40 years it was highly probable that no traces of HIV would be found.
Both Martin and Hooper wrote to Nature to contest the results. And, guess what? Neither of the two letters was accepted.<ref name="ftn137">Both letters can be consulted on Hooper's and Martin's websites.</ref> Hooper now declares he is certain that the origin of AIDS lies in the polio vaccines used in Africa and accuses the world of science of deliberately covering up the truth.<ref name="ftn138">Hooper didn't give up, and another meeting was organized at the prestigious Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome, which was almost ignored by the global scientific community. The papers of the meeting were published in 2003. (AAVV, Atti dei Convegni Lincei , 2003). A very successful documentary was shot and finished in 2003, which concentrated on the post-River period (CHAPPELL, P. et al., , 2003). A lot of related material can be found on Hooper's homepage.</ref> The scientific community insists that the OPV/AIDS theory has no foundation and poses a threat to vaccination campaigns.<ref name="ftn139">(WOROBEY, M. et al., Nature , 2004). The controversy between the bushmeat and OPV theories continues to this day. For the most recent article for the bushmeat school, see (KEELE, B. F. et al., Science , 2006) and for Hooper's response, see (HOOPER, E., Hooper's website , 2006).</ref>
"...one lesson to be learned from considering the OPV as a source of HIV is how plausibly it might have happened and how cautious we need to be over introducing medical treatments derived from animal tissues, such as live, attenuated vaccines or xeno-transplantation."<ref name="ftn140">(WEISS, R. A., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences , 2001). </ref> On this note the meeting in 2000 of the Royal Society ended.
Modern vaccines are still produced using monkey kidneys.<ref name="ftn141">In 1993, 22 of the 24 major polio vaccine laboratories were still using monkey kidney tissue cultures. (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see p. 326.</ref> Does that mean they are dangerous? No. Even if it would be better not to use monkeys any longer to produce them<ref name="ftn142">See for instance (LECATSAS, G., Nature , 2000) and the interview with Cecil Fox in the film documentary (CHAPPELL, P. et al., , 2003).</ref>, I believe that the experience acquired in 50 years of production has rendered vaccines very safe. Under no circumstances do I want this story to be interpreted as saying that vaccinations are bad. It is thanks to vaccines that poliomyelitis for us no longer exists. But there are other situations in which prudence is required.
Genetically engineering, cloning, transgenic food, new technologies, new drugs, xenotransplants: implants of animal organs into humans... Who decides when these risks are tolerable? And how? I believe a decision of this kind should be taken by all of society and that it should not be left up to the scruples of a team of researchers.
And so we come to the end of our story. If the theory did turn out to be true, would it be necessary to blame Koprowski?<ref name="ftn143">(MARTIN, B., J Med Ethics , 2003) and (CRIBB, J., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences , 2001)</ref> What difference would it make? I think it would be more important to ask ourselves about the behavior of modern medical researchers, and Koprowski is only one of many. Where will a society based on competition and individualism lead us, in which only the strongest, the richest and the fastest win, and in which there are, inevitably, others who lose? Increasing numbers of people, even entire companies, are pushed into taking ever greater risks, even if these are likely to lead to disasters of vast proportions.
Someone asked me if I was certain I wanted to take sides against science... The fact is I believe, on the contrary, that this story teaches us how important it is to develop the most fundamental element of science - our own critical sense. And anyway, science is not the equivalent of truth, of certainty. It involves, above all, recognizing the limits of our knowledge.
But what do you think? Is the OPV/AIDS theory true or not? Personally, I can only answer that question in a strictly scientific manner: nobody knows.