1955–1963: Dark Side of Salk Polio Vaccine

Scientific evidence existed showing the vaccine was contaminated with a cancer causing monkey virus — simian virus 40 (SV40) — but public health officials refused to take precautionary action.

An estimated 98 million Americans received the Salk Polio vaccine. “Few back then grasped that these vaccines might also be a huge, inadvertent, uncontrolled experiment in interspecies viral transmission.” (Tom Curtis, The Lancet, 2004)

But those scientists who did recognize the catastrophic risk were silenced and punished. Federal health officials have for decades denied the evidence and tried to suppress it. In 1954, Bernice Eddy, PhD., a vaccine safety researcher at NIH tested the vaccine manufactured by Cutter in 18 monkeys who immediately showed symptoms of paralysis. She sent a report of her findings and attached pictures of the paralyzed monkeys to her superiors at NIH. Her effort to avert the spread of the polio virus to healthy children failed; NIH officials ignored her findings. As a result, 40,000 children were sickened with “abortive polio,” 56 children developed paralytic polio, and five died in what is known as “the Cutter Incident.”

Dr. Eddy also discovered that the monkeys in which the polio vaccine had been cultured were carriers of a cancer causing monkey virus — later identified by Dr. Maurice Hilleman, Merck’s chief of vaccines, as simian virus 40 (SV40). The hamsters she had injected with the monkey serum developed tumors. NIH officials regarded her discovery as a threat to a pivotal public health policy; namely, mass vaccination. They tried to muzzle her, but in 1960 she presented her findings to the NY Cancer Society; whereupon NIH blocked her from publishing her findings, stripped her of her regulatory duties and laboratory. In 1961, Dr. Eddy finally published her findings: the polio vaccine contained SV40, a cancer causing virus.