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CureZone > Books > The Virus and the Vaccine : The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed by Debbie Bookchin, Jim Schumacher

The Virus and the Vaccine : The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed
by Debbie Bookchin [edit], Jim Schumacher [edit]

The Virus and the Vaccine : The True Story of a Cancer-Causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed
11 Stars!
Price: US$ 17.65, Available worldwide on
Check Availability from: Canada or from United Kingdom
ISBN: 0312278721

Past tragedies caused by "miracle drugs" have taught the public to approach cures with caution, and vaccines, in particular, have come under public scrutiny. In The Virus and the Vaccine, journalists Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher uncover the true tale of the polio vaccine and its past and present dangers. Like many medical detective stories before it, this book starts with a chilling anecdote, then flashes back to slowly set the stage for disaster. Baby boomers who only know Jonas Salk and his virus-fighting colleagues as heroes will be disturbed at how some of them downplayed concerns about a monkey virus called SV40 that was present in the polio vaccine. The links between SV40 and human cancer took a long time to define, and breakthroughs in molecular biology made the job more realistic in later decades. Nevertheless, Bookchin and Schumacher argue that a biased scientific bureaucracy in combination with a desperate public and money-hungry pharmaceutical! companies fostered the use of a vaccine that may have increased cancer risk. "The vast majority of baby boomers--almost all of whom received polio vaccine in the late 1950s and early 1960s--have potentially been exposed to the virus," they write. But baby boomers aren't the only ones at risk. The authors reveal that Lederle Laboratories continued to produce potentially contaminated oral polio vaccines well into the 1990s. Although the authors point fingers of blame at some specific targets, they carefully balance their accusations with reminders that public demands for cures must be balanced with careful assessment of new medical treatments. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly
Journalists Bookchin and Schumacher argue that for nine years, from 1954 to 1963, almost every dose of polio vaccine produced in the worldâ€"and the 98 million Americans who received polio vaccinationsâ€"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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
*Starred 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 © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From the Back Cover
"The Virus and the Vaccine has its share of heroes and villains, like any good novel-except that this is not fiction. Powerful and emotive, the book captures the joy of scientific discovery-from the dramatic fight against polio to the thrill of basic virology-with the tone of a mystery thriller. It offers an inside look at how scientific thinking evolves and how scientists must struggle to overcome established dogmas."
- Dr. Norman J. Maitland, Professor of Molecular Biology, Director of YCR Cancer Research Unit, University of York

"A beautifully-told tale of science and a fascinating piece of medical history. The Virus and the Vaccine reveals how science can be distorted, pushed and pulled by the pressures of politics and profits."
- Dr. David Himmelstein, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

"Millions of Americans are unaware that government officials and leading scientists played Russian roulette with their health in the 1960s after discovering that the original polio vaccines were contaminated with a cancer-causing monkey virus. Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher's fascinating, meticulously-researched account of the coverup, and its possible long-term health effects, is a deeply disturbing chapter in the recent history of science."
- Stephen S. Hall, New York Times Magazine science writer and author of Merchants of Immortality

Book Description
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.

A Must Read, July 29, 2004
Reviewer: NC Reader "NC Reader" (Cary, NC United States) - See all my reviews

This story is incredible and likely to disturb readers to the core. There are so many ways to go with writing a review. First, there's the readability factor: Scores a 10 there - it's a page turner as others have written. I read it over the course of 3 nights and found, like others, that it reads like a thriller or perhaps even a Grisham novel - only this story is TRUE.

Second, there's the important lessons for all of humankind factor: Scores a 10 in this department as well. Polio vaccine is a human invention; human beings are not infallible, they have never been infallible, and by extension there never has been nor will there ever be a human invention that is not prone to errors in human thinking, reasoning, and judgment and not subject to continuous improvements and/or great change as human knowledge advances.

Despite this undeniable truth, large health organizations and government health agencies would like the public to believe a very one-sided message about polio vaccine: that it is a medical milestone worthy of great praise and worship as it has delivered mankind from the evils of the childhood affliction of polio. Amen.

But that's only half the story. This book is about the other half - the one you won't read about in the press and that's about a great trade off of the polio vaccine. In exchange for reducing the rate of paralytic polio instances in childhood, has this wondrous medical marvel cut decades off many of our friends' and neighbors' lives? We all know people, some of them really great people, who died of rare and mysterious cancers in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They were diagnosed with cancer and as soon as treatments began their tumors spread fast and they succumbed quickly to their strange form of cancer. They left behind spouses, children and parents who will never be cared for by them in youth and old age.

I'm not suggesting that all, most or even some of these deaths are a result of SV-40 contaminated polio vaccine, but we are not in a position at present to ever know for sure as the party-line from the organizations who are supposed to protect public health continues to be that SV-40 in polio vaccines has not been proven to cause harm to man.


Please read this book and encourage other thinking people to read it too. There are many lessons that can be and should be learned from the polio vaccine history and SV-40 story. You'll also come away with new modern-day heroes who, unlike so many of the icons of today, are truly worthy of your respect and admiration. There are the scientists and researchers like Bernice Eddy, Michele Carbone and others who did and continue to do the right thing despite the many pressures to not stir up this pot. And then the biggest heroes of all in my mind are the authors for taking the time and dedicating years of their lives to accurately tell this great story...the true story that plain and simply has to be told.

A Gripping Page Turner, July 16, 2004
Reviewer: Andrea Bleichner (Ft. Plain, NY United States) - See all my reviews

This was the best book I have ever read. I could not put it down. The Virus and the Vaccine is written in narrative style filled with causal events, conflicts, and complications making it a gripping page turner and an easy read. I found The Virus and the Vaccine to be well documented. The approach is neither wild nor hysterical but rather it is meticulous as the authors unfold the story of a nation held hostage by the seasonal polio epidemics to the truth being held hostage by scientific dogma, politics, ambition and greed. The Virus and the Vaccine will inform and shock its readers. It is a must read.

We won't be fooled again!, July 15, 2004
Reviewer: Thomas G. Lamson (Burlington, VT United States) - See all my reviews

You will be attracted and repulsed by the brainy people inhabiting this book. Painlessly, the the authors draw the reader into the rarefied world of medical research. Without talking down, they equip readers to fully appreciate the brilliance and boneheadedness that led to one of the greatest medical advances and public health fiascos of our time. The heart of the story is the clash between the science of heroic genius and the search for shared intelligence. This book treats you intelligently. Most of all, it is gripping story and a good read. In the end, you feel emboldened to draw your own conclusions.

A patient speaks out, June 22, 2004
Reviewer: "tazowolf" (Chevy Chase, MD United States) - See all my reviews

I'm glad that someone has finally gone public, really public, about the contamination of polio vaccines with SV40. I was 25 when I was diagnosed with collapsing variant Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, and immediately sought out research to try and find some help, and hope for my situation. The researcher I found is mentioned in the book as being one of the lucky few who is funded for SV40 Research. He has found the virus in a high percentage of patients with this kidney disease, including me. What the book doesn't say is that at the time he focused on SV40, he was searching for possible viral causes for the disease, and that's what his grant was for. When he sought a grant to focus on SV40 exclusively as a cause, his grant was denied.

I, too, am a researcher, and will soon be attending medical school. For the most part, I have been fortunate. I have recovered fully, while most of those afflicted with this disease don't, even with transplants. It recurs in the new organ. There is no telling whether my recovery is temporary or permanent. The researcher in question has come to regard me as a colleague, and even though he has lost his funding, he firmly believes SV40 plays a role in the disease, and has the data to support it. He will not give up on trying to find further funding for research in this area. It is my hope that people will not only read this book, but also be prompted by their curiosity to read the scientific papers cited in it, as I had already done prior to even knowing this book was coming. This book is the first to compile all of the data together and to reveal the overall conclusion- An error was made in the rush to find a way to prevent polio. One can accept that error in the short term for the benefit vs. risk during the polio epidemic. However, rather than making the small effort necessary to resolve that error and create a safer vaccine, our government decided to bury the data and continue manufacture and distribution of the contaminated materials. I may not be a physician yet, but I have read the Hippocratic Oath. Here are excerpts from that oath:

"Above All, Do No Harm"

"I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice."

"I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect."

It is shameful that the very people who took this oath have gone to such great lengths to continue administering a preventative measure against polio known to contain a harmful virus, knowing that it can easilly be made safer, and at the same time ensuring the prolonged and painful deaths of thousands from the variety of cancers and other diseases SV40 has been indicated to cause.

I am outraged, June 8, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
This book rocked my world,as a baby boomer with a fatal brain cancer.I have always been a proponent of vaccines and had my now 26 year old son vaccinated with everything around.Now he has a baby daughter and he and his wife have decided not to have her vaccinated for anything but tetnaus.I am totally behind them now,which is probably one of the reasons this information has been supressed so long.
I had to put the book down in the middle for a week or so,I was so outraged at the governments denial of this simian virus 40 and how they trashed,fired,and vilified every researcher that found SV40 in cancer.

I am a medical professional so the book was not too difficult to understand,but I would not recommend it to someone who sticks to "light reading."

Got 15 pages more but needed a break.I am supposed to get flu shots but will be looking at syringes full of vaccine with a much warier eye.

Anyone remember the "hog flu" during Fords administration that was supposed to be a horrible epidemic? It turned out to be nothing and people were getting awful (like Guillan-Barre) side effects from it.

Cripes,I need a punching bag.I guess the NIH will have to do.

Shocking story., May 25, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
I was involved in the defense of President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings. The hearings that the Judiciary held during those proceedings left me with a cynical attitude towards our government, but the impeachment proceedings did not shock me as much as the story this book tells about our government giving a contaminated vaccine to millions of children, knowing that it had a monkey virus that had caused cancer in laboratory animals. Worse yet, the medical leaders in our government repressed research showing that this virus could cause cancer in humans. I highly recommend reading this book to find out what they did to the millions of people who were given that vaccine.

The Coverup of a Terrible Mistake, April 15, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
This book should be required reading for every biology student and health care professional. Other reviewers have commented on the content and writing style, which are very impressive. As a Salk Polio Vaccine vaccinated parent with a child, who became very ill with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis , I found the book very informative. My child participated in the NIH study on FSGS and tested positive for active SV40. The researcher has now lost funding for further studies that could link SV40 and FSGS.
I first learned of Ms. Bookchin and Shumacher's investigation of the Polio vaccine contamination from their Atlantic Monthly article on the internet when I was searching for information on FSGS and SV40. I am pleased that they expanded that work into a very complete book. The negligence of the people, who permitted the contamination of the polio vaccine by this virus, is appalling. I am glad that this book was published, and hope that, finally, something may be done to help those who were unknowingly infected with SV40.

This is a terrific book!, April 7, 2004
Reviewer: A reader
This book is terrific. Despite the complexity of the subject, the writers maintain a very clear voice as they tell this compelling story. The prologue to the story instantly engaged me, as they recount the tragic story of little Alexander Horwin, who died of a medullablastoma when he was 2 years old -- a cancer that may have been caused by his exposure to a Polio vaccination.
The writers give a detailed account of the history of polio and the creation of the Polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in the late 1950s. The account clearly shows what a horrible disease Polis was (and still is), and how desperate the world was for a solution. When the vaccine was created, it quickly eradicated the disease in the US. But there was a cost...and it turns out, it was a calculated risk on the part of our Federal government and the pharmaceutical companies who manufactured the vaccine. They quickly knew that the vaccine had been contaminated with live monkey virus, but dismissed the possible consequences of that contamination on the human population. (In today's world, where the CDC and the World Heath Organization are extremely concerned about viruses that go from animal to human -- like SARS and the Avian flu -- you think that such a vaccination would not be permitted. But after reading the book, you can see how science is diluted by the hard realities of immediate needs for "cures" and by the costs of manufacturing the vaccines).

In the months and years after the vaccine was manufactured and injected into millions of men, women, and children, a number of concerned scientists began to gather a body of information about the dangers of the vaccine. People like Bernice Eddy, a scientist at the NIH. Her career was destroyed when she tried to alert the public. Others suffered similar experiences.

This story talks about how some scientists fought against the political pressures to suppress their scientific data. And it's a great story (one which still isn't finished). I couldn't put the book down!

Debbie Bookchin (Biography)

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 (Biography)

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. 

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