Did the Polio Vaccine Cause the AIDS Pandemic?

In 1999, Edward Hooper published a book entitled The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS. The central hypothesis was that the origin of AIDS could be traced to oral poliovirus vaccines that were administered in the Belgian Congo between 1957 and 1960. This assertion was based on the following assumptions:

  1. all poliovirus vaccines were grown in monkey kidney cells
  2. those cells were contaminated with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is closely related to HIV
  3. people were inadvertently infected with SIV that then mutated to HIV and caused the AIDS epidemic.

The following facts, however, exonerate polio vaccines as a cause of AIDS:

  • SIV is found in chimpanzees, not monkeys, and chimpanzee cells were never used to grow polio vaccine
  • SIV and HIV are not very close genetically and mutation from SIV to HIV would have required centuries, not years
  • Both SIV and HIV are enveloped viruses that are easily disrupted by extremes of pH. If given by mouth (as was OPV), both of these viruses would likely be destroyed in the acid environment of the stomach
  • Original lots of the polio vaccine (including those used in Africa for the polio vaccine trials) did not contain HIV, SIV, or chimpanzee genetic sequences when analyzed by molecular amplification techniques

Unfortunately, fears of polio vaccine based on this unfounded theory adversely affected vaccine use where it is need most—in the developing world where the last vestiges of wild type poliovirus reside.

—Marshall, Gary S. “Addressing Concerns About Vaccines.” The Vaccine Handbook: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. 3rd ed. New York: Professional Communications, Inc., 2010. 234-235. Print.

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