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Is there a relationship between the burgeoning epidemic of chronic diseases and the vaccine trials that took place decades ago? Is there a hidden truth that could change the way we treat these diseases?
In the search for the cause of a new disease, scientists become detectives and ask questions that cast a broad net over a field of possibilities. As I started working with my co-author Dr. Judy Mikovits on our book about the human/mouse retrovirus XMRV, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), and autism, I wondered about the starting point of these diseases.
From my previous background in autism I knew that the first cases were reported among children born to parents who worked predominately in medical or scientific fields in the 1930s. The birth-date of the earliest child who would go onto develop autism was September 13, 1931, as reported by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins University in an article he published in 1943. The first recorded outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) took place in 1934-1935 among 198 doctors and nurses at Los Angeles County Hospital who were working feverishly in the middle of a polio epidemic.
These starting points piqued my interest. Autism and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) appeared at roughly the same time period and among the families of those involved in scientific and medical pursuits. How did the finding of a human/mouse retrovirus, XMRV, among chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients by Dr. Mikovits in 2009, and her unpublished research suggesting something similar among children with autism tie together?
Well, it turns out scientists in the 1930s were doing a great deal of experiments passaging dangerous human viruses through mouse tissue to try and weaken the virus. The first experiment involved the virus which causes yellow fever. From an article entitled "Vaccination Against Yellow Fever with Immune Serum and Virus Fixed for Mice" and published on May 31, 1932 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine: Moreover, it appeared the yellow fever virus, after many passages through mice, had lost most, but not all of its virulence for monkeys, and probably for man, although retaining its power to immunize. It was proposed therefore, to test in monkeys the safety and the immunizing power of a vaccine composed of living virus fixed for mice and human immune serum, and if these tests gave satisfactory results, to commence immunizing persons exposed to yellow fever.
In other words, they gave the yellow fever virus to mice, then when that seemed to weaken the virus, they gave it to monkeys. When the vaccine appeared to work on the monkeys, they would give it to humans.
The same article went onto recount how they followed that protocol: Sixteen persons were vaccinated against yellow fever in this laboratory, the first on May 13, 1931, by the methods developed with monkeys . . . The first person to be vaccinated was admitted to the Hospital of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research through the courtesy of Dr. Rufus Cole and Dr. T. M. Rivers . . . According to Dr. Leo Kanner, the first child to develop autism was born on September 13, 1931, six months after this first experiment at the Rockefeller Institute.
However, this yellow fever vaccine never made it into wide usage because when it was injected into the brains of mice and monkeys, their brains quickly swelled with encephalitis and they died. The problems with this vaccine were laid out in a presentation made by Dr. G. Stuart to the World Health Organization in 1953. [T]wo main objections to this vaccine have been voiced, because of the possibility that: (i) the mouse brains employed in its preparation may be contaminated with a virus pathogenic for man although latent in mice . . . or may be the cause of a demyelinating encephalomyelitis; (ii) the use as an antigen of a virus with enhanced neurotropic properties may be followed by serious reactions involving the central nervous system.
A vaccine injected into the bloodstream shouldn't normally cross the blood/brain barrier. But there was a great deal which remained unknown about what might cause the blood/brain barrier to be breached. Scientists at this time considered it was better to err on the side of caution.
But the use of mouse brains as a medium to weaken a virus was pursued by other doctors, including Dr. Maurice Brodie and Dr. William Park, in their attempt to develop a polio vaccine. In an article published in Experimental Biology and Medicine on March 1, 1935 by Dr. Brodie he wrote: From these experiments, it appears that of all the ordinary laboratory animals, the mouse should be the best in attempting to produce poliomyelitis, for the virus survives in its brain for a longer time than in that of the guinea pig, rabbit, or rat.
Brodie continued: The passage material was a mixture of 1 part of active virus and 4 parts of a suspension of mouse brain and mouse stem. The materials from the 24th and 45th passages injected into a series of mice in multiple inoculations, produced no effect in the mice nor did the virus in either of the passages survive for a longer time than in the preliminary experiment . . .
Trials of the Brodie polio vaccine were subsequently conducted in North Carolina, Virginia, and California, including 7,000 children. Could this vaccine have contained a mouse/human retrovirus caused by the passaging of a virus through mouse biological tissue? The Brodie vaccine was also administered to 300 nurses and physicians from the Los Angeles County Hospital, site of the first outbreak of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) in 1934-1935. This early polio vaccine was also given in combination with an immune serum, which used the newly-created mercury derivative, thimerosal, as a preservative. You might say it was the moment in medical history when the mouse met mercury.
The Brodie vaccine, like the earlier yellow fever vaccine, did not make it into general usage. It was identified as the cause of polio in some patients and was linked to several deaths. In a book by Dr. Paul Offit, The Cutter Incident – How America's First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis he recounts how the young Dr. Brodie was traumatized by the failure of his vaccine, had trouble finding work, and eventually died in May of 1939 at the age of thirty-six, a suspected suicide.
The theory that early vaccines might have transferred a newly created retrovirus to human beings is not an idea that originates solely with me or my co-author, Dr. Mikovits. In January of 2011 an article entitled "Of Mice and Men – On the Origin of XMRV" was published in the well-regarded journal Frontiers in Microbiology. The authors wrote: One of the most widely distributed biological products that frequently involved mice or mouse tissue, at least up to recent years, are vaccines, especially vaccines against viruses . . . It is possible that XMRV particles were present in virus stocks cultured in mice or mouse cells for vaccine production, and that the virus was transferred to the human population by vaccination.
I recall being profoundly disturbed when I researched this part of the book. There were dedicated doctors struggling to understand and stop terrible diseases. But what happens when somebody who is trying to do good, ends up doing something terrible? How does human nature enter the picture?
It occurred to me as I worked on our book PLAGUE, that those who must have been most intimately involved with these experiments made a decision to keep that knowledge secret at that time. Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and autism were the bastard children of the fight against other diseases.
And again, when I researched my suspicions I found that there were others who had followed a similar trail. In her book Osler's Web, the journalist Hillary Johnson (full disclosure – she wrote the foreword to our book) recounted how Canadian researcher Dr. Byron Hyde told her that there had been a settlement of some six million dollars in about 1939 to the 198 doctors and nurses of the Los Angeles County Hospital who came down with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). A condition of the settlement was that they not discuss the outbreak.
I interviewed Dr. Hyde in 2013. Hyde recounted to me that the original investigation by Dr. A. G. Gilliam of the 1934-1935 ME/CFS outbreak had been compromised. Gilliam was forced to take out the section of his report linking this new disease to the Brodie polio vaccine and accompanying immune serum. Hyde told me, "In the original document he [Gilliam] said it was caused by this immunization and it was a human transfer of infectious material, so it was actually a great experiment. He had a huge fight with the head of the public health system of the United States and the fight went on for almost six months. Finally, it was agreed that he would be allowed to publish it, as long as he took out the immunization section-because if you put the immunization in, it would set back all Americans on immunizations for years and cause the death of many, many people. I think it was the theory then and it still is today. As a physician you cannot say anything negative about immunizations, even if it's causing problems-and they do."
In a court of law a witness takes the stand, raises a hand, and swears to God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In science I know there's a similar obligation to honestly report what has taken place. It's dangerous to depart from these guidelines, and yet I fear that is exactly what happened decades ago.
We need to know if the attempt to solve the riddles of one disease created more diseases. We need to follow the truth, no matter where it takes us. Only if the scientific community is honest about what caused these diseases, can we have any chance of treating them.