Seeds of Doom - Chapter 3
Story of a controversial theory about the origin of AIDS
Chapter 3: Belgian Congo
About 250,000 people of both sexes and of all ages were vaccinated with a live, attenuated experimental vaccine called CHAT, which was administered orally.<ref name="ftn39">(COURTOIS, G. et al., British Medical Journal , 1958)</ref> When? Between February 1957 and April 1958. Where? In the Belgian Congo and in Ruanda-Urundi, now called Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, exactly in the epicenter of the HIV-1 epidemic.<ref name="ftn40">(BIGGAR, R. J. et al., Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) , 1985) Curtis was probably referring to this article, but the researches of the Biggar group were distorted by the elevated sensibility of the ELISA test used. The results were then corrected in the following articles: (BIGGAR, R. J. et al., Lancet , 1985) and (BIGGAR, R. J., New England Journal of Medicine , 1986). However, as Curtis pointed out later, the conclusions of the first article remained valid. (HRDY, D. B., Rev Infect Dis , 1987). The publication of 7 suspected cases of HIV/AIDS originating from Zaire and Burundi between 1962 and 1976 gave more support to the hypothesis of a central African origin of the epidemic (SONNET, J. et al., Scand J Infect Dis , 1987).</ref> The first mass vaccination with a live polio vaccine carried out on humans.
The same vaccine was also tested in Kinshasa between 1958 and 1959 on 46,000 people.<ref name="ftn41">(LEBRUN, A. et al., Bull WHO , 1960); (PLOTKIN, S. A. et al., Bull WHO , 1960); (PLOTKIN, S. A. et al., Bull WHO , 1961).</ref> Kinshasa was then called Leopoldville and was part of the Belgian Congo - the exact place where in 1959, one year later, the first HIV-positive blood sample in the world was taken! But who organized this campaign? You already know him. Hilary Koprowski, the one who recommended in 1960 that monkey kidneys should no longer be used in the production of polio vaccine.
But who is Hilary Koprowski?<ref name="ftn42">(HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000). See also the biography of Hilary Koprowski and the autobiography of his wife (VAUGHAN, R., "Listen to the Music : The Life of Hilary Koprowski.", 1999); (KOPROWSKA, I., "A Woman Wanders Through Life and Science.", 1997).</ref> He was born in Poland in 1916, studied the piano and medicine simultaneously but chose a career in research because, as he put it, "I did not have enough talent to become the best pianist in the world."
After immigrating to the USA, he began work in the field of polio. In March 1951 he surprised everyone by announcing that he was the first researcher to administer a live oral vaccine to human beings. The "volunteers", whom he described as "retarded", were 20 children from a mental home in the State of New York. No cause for scandal, it was absolutely normal practice to use the mentally handicapped as guinea pigs. Koprowski's experiments went on for 6 years and involved newborn infants of female prison inmates in New Jersey. Prisoners were also prime subjects for experimentation! In 1956 he carried out a larger experiment in Belfast, but the check tests done by locally-based doctors indicated that Koprowski's vaccine was not at all safe and should no longer be used.
In 1957 Koprowski became Director of the Wistar Institute of Philadelphia, a modest research centre, which he modernized from top to bottom. But before he took over, he carefully prepared the terrain by entering into an agreement with the Belgian authorities. At that time Koprowski and Sabin were in fierce competition with each other. After the discovery of the disadvantages of the Salk vaccine, attention was focused on live oral vaccines. The first to develop a safe and efficient one would be a hero. It was a fight to the finish with no holds barred. Koprowski and Sabin hated each other, but precisely hate can breed a robust competition, which produces results (ironic)!
Soon after arriving in the Congo, the first thing Koprowski did was testing his vaccine on the "residents" at a chimpanzee colony. As a "precaution", he had the vaccine administered to the animal keepers as well, who were of course African. And so it was, that the successful immunization of a few keepers became the justification for the first mass experiments in the history of an oral polio vaccine. Called forth by the sound of beating drums, the Africans traveled from the countryside to the meeting-places of the villages. There they were lined up and the liquid vaccine was squirted into their mouths. By means of a small tube connected to a flask, about 300,000 people were vaccinated between 1957 and 1959.
But meanwhile Sabin had begun his campaign in the Soviet Union with the support of a government which was only too happy to be able to give the US a swift kick where it hurts and demonstrate that one of their compatriots, in spite of having emigrated abroad, was the inventor of the first safe and efficient oral polio vaccine. In 1959, at a conference held in Washington, the situation became clear: Sabin's results were found to be superior to Koprowski's. Moreover, on that occasion, Sabin finished Koprowski off with a revelation like a poisoned dagger: "... tests on the large lot of Koprowski's type 1 "CHAT" vaccine used in the Belgian Congo trials... revealed the presence of an unidentified, non-poliomyelitis cytopathogenic virus..."<ref name="ftn43">(SABIN, A. B., British Medical Journal , 1959). Koprowski replied energetically to Sabin's accusation (KOPROWSKI, H., British Medical Journal , 1959).</ref>
So according to Sabin, who was recognized by everyone as being very precise, Koprowski's CHAT vaccine was contaminated by a virus he could not identify. After this, Koprowski's chances for success were reduced to a minimum. The SV40 scandal in 1960 might have been of some help to him, but meanwhile, back in the Congo, the end of the world had come: a revolution had begun which was to bring the country first independence, then civil war and finally the cruel Mobutu dictatorship. The whites were obliged to leave the area in haste. And then, as is always the case with whoever loses the race, Koprowski's vaccinations were completely forgotten.
The OPV/AIDS hypothesis
So now let's summarize the situation: the place and time of the vaccinations correspond with those of the AIDS epidemic. From the point of view of logic there was also a precedent: SV40. In addition, the great authority, Sabin, claimed that Koprowski's vaccine was contaminated. And if we want to be malicious, why did Koprowski recommend in 1960 that monkey kidneys should no longer be used? I'm not saying it happened like this, but it certainly bears questioning. At this point the theory is no longer just a hypothesis. That's the oral polio vaccine theory (OPV/AIDS theory).
Would you publicize it?
Now let me ask you a question: if you were journalists and came to these conclusions, would you publicize them? Obviously you would have to consult some specialists or interview the persons directly involved. A journalist named Tom Curtis found himself in this situation and set out to interview the great men of science. This was their response to the theory:
Dr Jonas Salk: "What value is it to anyone to try to imply such a cause and effect relationship?"
Dr Albert Sabin: "You can't hang Koprowski with that."
Dr Hilary Koprowski: "You're beating a dead horse... My opinion is that this is a highly theoretical situation which... does not make sense."
Dr David Heymann, World Health Organization: "The origin of the AIDS virus is of no importance to science today... Any speculation on how it arose is of no importance."
Dr William Haseltine, Harvard University: "It's not relevant ... Who cares what the origin was? Who really cares? If you want to do something good, write about problems people experience."
Do you agree with them? Do you also think it's not important to know the origin of AIDS?<ref name="ftn44">Paragraph inspired by (MARTIN, B., J Med Ethics , 2003).</ref> Perhaps their reasoning was, "Now it's here, who cares how it got here, we have to find a solution." But a greater knowledge of the origin might possibly suggest new ideas for a cure, for its prevention. And apart from this, in an adult society, if a tragedy happens, you not only rescue the victims, but you ask yourselves what the cause was in order to prevent similar disasters from happening.
But even apart from these practical considerations, don't you think that the death of 30 million people requires an explanation? I grew up with the idea that science can ask questions about anything. We ask whether there's water on Mars, if anti-matter exists, we study the glacial eras, we analyze 14th century poetry... Why is it not considered important to inquire into how a virus managed to attack humans and cause millions of deaths? I know, put like that it becomes a question of priority. Of course, next to research into a cure for AIDS, the subject of its origin comes second. But surely not after quantum physics or other incredibly expensive fields of research.
Tom Curtis' article
Or is there another explanation...? Perhaps people, the masses, you and me are considered too stupid to understand such a complex topic. We don't have the knowledge and we might draw hurried and erroneous conclusions, that vaccines are bad, that science is an abomination. Why can we not be considered mature people capable of understanding, reflecting and deciding freely? I believe if things are explained calmly and clearly, you can understand them. Maybe it costs more to explain them well, but all of society profits. Who knows, perhaps this is what Tom Curtis thought when in March 1992 he published his article on the oral polio vaccine theory: "The Origin of AIDS. A startling new theory attempts to answer the question, 'Was it an act of God or an act of man?' " And where did Tom Curtis publish it? In Rolling Stone!<ref name="ftn45">(CURTIS, T., Rolling Stone , 1992). Curtis's article, accompaigned with interesting photos shot at the end of the Fifties in the Congo during the mass vaccination, ended with the wise sentence: "If the Congo vaccine turns out not to be the way AIDS got started in people, it will be because medicine was lucky, not because it was infallible." Sex, Lies, and Videotape director Steven Soderbergh had optioned the movie rights to the Rolling Stone story, and Universal Studios retained Curtis for a year to write the screenplay, but like most optioned properties, the project died on the vine, and the screenplay was never made into a film. (TYER, B, Houston Press , 2000).</ref>