Polio: the roots of the storyby Kris Gaublomme, MD
Polio is one of the last vaccines of what we could call ‘the first generation’ of vaccines, together with smallpox, whooping cough and diphtheria. It is also one of the most difficult ones to criticize, because invariably a picture shows up of large hospital wards filled with iron lungs. "Is this what you want, then?: Are we against freeing the world from this old scourge by the blessing of vaccination, given to us by these brave scientists?
The greater the aureola which is built around a vaccine, the more it is supposed to hide. At least, that much I learned form the study of the smallpox vaccine, the tetanus and the polio vaccine. All three of them are praised sky high in literature, whereas a scroutinous study of their roots reveal rather disgusting chapters of manipulation, propaganda and behind-the-scenes-politics. So let us peep what happened during those illustrious years of discovery about the middle of this century.
1955 has been brand in my memory as the year the polio vaccine was first discovered. My first mistake. 20 years earlier, on 1935, a first experiment was made with a chemically treated vaccine. The initiative came to a halt very soon since 12 children developed poliomyelitis within 2 weeks after injection with the vaccine. 5 of them died, 3 were left with severe paralysis. That probably is the reason why so few of us ever even heard about it. The incident was serious enough to inspire dr. J.P. Leake, former Medical Director of the U.S. Public Health Service, to write that "many physicians will feel that these cases make undesirable the further use of poliomyelitis virus for human vaccination at present" (JAM A, 1939; 105/2:152). And indeed, both vaccine strains being used at the time were abandoned. But not forever, it seems. 20 years later dr. Salk reappeared on the stage with loud trumpets with a new inactivated vaccine.
Then, I thought that the enthousiasm about the Salk vaccine was based upon the tremendous results from the testings of the vaccine. Wrong again.
Of course, the Salk vaccine was tested before release. It was tested on nearly 2 million children in 44 States. A dr. Thomas Francis Jr., director of the Poliomyelitis Evaluation Centre at the University of Michigan, analysed the results of Dr. Salk’s experiments. On April 12th 1955 at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in front of a meeting of 500 selected public health doctors and polio experts, and distributed by television to another 54,000 doctors in the U.S. and Canada, he declared the vaccine safe, powerful and effective. The entire press rejoiced, and predicted the end of poliomyelitis in a near future. The terminology used beats our immagination. Alister Cooke in the Manchester Guardian of April 16, 1955, wrote that "Nothing short of the overthrow of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union could bring such rejoicing to the hearts and homes in America as the historic announcement last Tuesday that the 166-year war against poliomyelitis is almost certainly at an end." Apparently, this was an unequalled piece of mass manipulation and indoctrination. Within two hours of Dr. Francis’s declaration, the National Health Institute issued an official licence, and six pharmaceutical companies started the production of millions of doses of the vaccine simultaneously. The U.S. government’s goal was ambitious: they wanted to vaccinate 57 million people between April and midsummer1
Obviously, all hence were called on deck before dr. Francis’s speech, and nothing could have stopped the machinery which had started to work full steam even before April 12th. Even a few ‘sensitive’ points in his report could not have stopped it. Yet, some contemporary scientists uttered their concern about the report.
First of all, dr. Francis never predicted a 100% efficacy of the vaccine. Against the bulbo-spinal form of the disease, the report mentioned from 81 to 94% efficacy, against the spinal paralytic form between 39 and 60%, and as to the non-papalytic form there was no difference whatsoever between vaccinated and the controls.
Second, Francis had not matched the age-groups properly between vaccinated and controls. The vaccinated were in the second grade, the controls were all younger or older.
Third, an even grosser manipulation was the fact that only children who were vaccinated twice were considered to be immunised. All those who contracted polio after the first inoculation were registered in the ‘non-vaccinated’ group!
Other criticisms were formulated at the time. Several people had their doubts about the duration of the protection offered by the vaccine. Others questioned the safety of the vaccine, saying that "no batch can ever be proved safe before it is given to children". Dr. Florio in the Daily Express (May 16, 1955) even warned that children inoculated with a faulty vaccine may become carriers of the virus.
THE CUTTER INCIDENT
Unfortunately, his words were prophetic. Only 13 days after the vaccine was declared ‘safe and effective’, the first reports came in about children who developed poliomyelitis after their vaccination. Most of them were vaccinated with the vaccine of the Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California. ByJune23rd, 168 confirmed cases of poliomyelitis were diagnosed among the vaccinated, with 6 deaths. The interval between vaccination and paralysis was between 5 and 20 days. Moreover, unexpectingly, 149 cases were seen among the contacts of vaccinees, with 6 more deaths. This was a new phenomenon which no one ever expected since the vaccine was supposed to be ‘dead’, i.e. to contain no live viruses at all and thus not to be infectious. Apparantly, the technique for killing the viruses with formaldehyde had failed. The U.S. Public Health Service published in the Lancet (June 18, 1955) that several of the six manufacturers licensed to make the Salk vaccine had the daunting experience of finding active virus -in one instance in 4 out of 6 batches tested - in the vaccine -when it should have been safe and ready for use. On top of that, later investigation revealed that only random checks were made in stead of testing all the batches before release.
One of the disastrous aspects of the Cutter incident was that the numbers of children developing polio after vaccination were far higher than would have been expected if no vaccinations had been carried out at all. Moreover, as mentioned above, a cohort of carriers was created which would spread the disease further throughout the population.
"In fact, in the state of Idaho, according to a statement by Dr. Carl Eklund, one of the Government’s chief virus authorities, polio struck only vaccinated children in areas where there had been no cases since the preceding autumn; in 9 out of 10 cases the paralysis occurred in the arms in which the vaccine had been injected. (News Chronicle, May 6, 1955)."
Beddow Bayly, M.; The Story of the Salk Anti Poliomyelitis Vaccine p. 9-10. National Anti-vivisection Society, 1956