Cover image for The virus and the vaccine : the true story of a cancer-causing monkey virus, contaminated polio vaccine, and the millions of Americans exposed
The virus and the vaccine : the true story of a cancer-causing monkey virus, contaminated polio vaccine, and the millions of Americans exposed
Bookchin, Debbie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvii, 380 pages ; 25 cm
Added Author:
Format :


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Material Type
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QR406.2.S56 B66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Jonas Salk's polio vaccine has taken on an almost legendary quality as a medical miracle, for it largely eradicated one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. But the story of the vaccine has a dark side, one that has never been fully told before... Between 1954 and 1963, close to 98 million Americans received polio vaccinations contaminated with a carcinogenic monkey virus, now known as SV40. A concerted government effort downplayed the incident, and it was generally accepted that although oncogenic to laboratory animals, SV40 was harmless to humans.But now SV40 in showing up in human cancers, and prominent researchers are demanding a serious public health response to this forgotten polio vaccine contaminant. A gripping medical detective story, The Virus and the Vaccine raises major questions about vaccine policy.

Author Notes

Debbie Bookchin is a prize-winning journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Nation , and The Boston Globe , among others. Jim Schumacher has written science articles for periodicals including the Atlantic Monthly and Boston Magazine . They are married to each other and live in Burlington, Vermont.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Imagine being snatched from the paralyzing jaws of polio, only to be blindsided later by the mysterious appearance of a lymphoma, mesothelioma, or brain or bone cancer that could have been prevented. According to journalists Bookchin and Schumacher, the mightiest salvo in the U.S. war against polio seems to have been contaminated with a carcinogenic virus. What's worse, efforts within the scientific community to prevent dispensing contaminated vaccines have been systematically stonewalled from the very beginning by nothing less than the federal government, which first denied the vaccine was contaminated and then denied that the viral contaminant causes cancer in humans--a denial it continues to make. Bookchin and Schumacher document dozens of independent studies and experiments that repeatedly link SV40, a virus imbedded in the monkey kidneys that were used as a polio vaccine medium, with the above-mentioned cancers. In a page-turning narrative, they recall a nation terrorized by polio, the scramble to find a preventive or cure, and how a federal initiative led to the immunization of millions of American schoolchildren with either Salk's or Sabin's vaccine, neither of which, apparently, was resistant to SV40. Bookchin and Schumacher name names, which may bring them not only more keenly interested readers but also enemies from among the medical elite. --Donna Chavez Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalists Bookchin and Schumacher argue that for nine years, from 1954 to 1963, almost every dose of polio vaccine produced in the world-and the 98 million Americans who received polio vaccinations-was contaminated with a cancer-causing virus from the monkey kidneys used to develop the vaccine. Although the polio vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk virtually ended polio as a threatening disease, the authors detail how "the screening techniques and observation periods that Salk and the vaccine manufacturers employed were not capable of always catching the contaminants." This sordid story spells out how repeated research studies showing that the "SV40" virus was in the vaccine were dismissed by federal health officials, so that "there would be no warning to consumers that the vaccine they and their children were receiving contained a live monkey virus whose effect on humans was entirely unknown." In the second part, the authors contend that even today such organizations as the National Institutes of Health continue to dismiss study results, even though numerous studies have shown that SV40 is capable of causing cancer in humans. The final and most horrific part of the story reports that Lederle Laboratories, the sole oral vaccine supplier in the U.S. from 1977 onward, continued to use monkey kidneys possibly infected by the SV40 virus in its manufacturing process until oral polio vaccine was removed from the market as late as January 2000. This meticulously researched, levelheaded and well-written book should stir up considerable debate. Because the authors never become alarmist, this solid work of investigative reporting carries considerable weight, and deserves to be read by a large audience. Agent, David Black. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Immunizations have been responsible for wiping out many diseases that formerly killed or crippled millions of children. However, no medical treatment is without its risks. A husband-and-wife team, journalists Bookchin and Schumacher chronicle the polio vaccine, hailed as one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the last century. They focus on an important and little-known chapter of that story: the contamination of the vaccine with the simian virus 40 (SV40) between 1954 and 1963. Later studies of SV40 linked it with a variety of cancers, and it continues to show up in cancers today; patients include those too young to have received the older vaccine. How can that be? As they answer this question, the authors delve into the intricacies of vaccine production and testing, as well as government regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. Well researched and footnoted, this gripping title reads like a novel, following the drama of the early search for a polio cure to the heartbreak of family members watching loved ones die of cancer that may have been preventable by stronger regulations. Recommended for health collections and larger public libraries.-Eris Weaver, Redwood Health Lib., Petaluma, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. XI
1 The Paralyzed Presidentp. 1
2 A Nation at War with Poliop. 10
3 A Young Man from Pittsburghp. 19
4 The Vaccine that Opened Pandora's Boxp. 31
5 Triumph and Disasterp. 46
6 Does Anyone Know What's in This Vaccine?p. 57
7 The Virus Discoveredp. 69
8 "We Were Scared of SV40"p. 86
9 "The Worst Thing in the World"p. 99
10 Why Not a Safer Vaccine?p. 118
11 Everyone Knows SV40 Doesn't Cause Cancerp. 132
12 "A Wild-Assed Idea"p. 146
13 Don't Inflame the Publicp. 161
14 A Call to Turn Aside the Dogmap. 175
15 On the Scientific Mapp. 187
16 The Perfect War Machinep. 203
17 A Study Marred by Strifep. 218
18 Wasted Time, Wasted Moneyp. 229
19 No Funding, No Researchp. 245
20 Alexander's Tumorp. 259
Conclusionp. 278
Notes and Sourcesp. 287
Appendix A Association of SV40 with Human Diseasep. 333
Appendix B Correspondence between Bernice Eddy, Joseph Smadel, and Roderick Murray (chapters 6 and 7)p. 343
Appendix C Documents and Articles Concerning the Discovery of SV40 in Salk's and Sabin's Vaccines (chapters 8 and 9)p. 347
Appendix D Memos and Correspondence Relating to Multi-Laboratory Study and Carbone-Pass Rapid Access to Intervention Development (RAID) Grant (chapters 17 and 18)p. 353
Acknowledgmentsp. 365