[Press Release made available at the Royal Society discussion meeting on the origin of AIDS, 11-12 September 2000]
The Year 2000 for many is just a chronological event, but for those of us in polio research the year was to mark the eradication of polio from this planet. It has been fifty years since I was the first scientist to successfully and safely immunize a human being against this dreaded killer.
However, today, instead of celebrating scientific and medical milestone, we have been left with the task of controlling damage done by The River, as a result of which people are questioning the vaccination of children; the Catholic Church in Kenya has advised mothers not to take their children for polio vaccination as it was contaminated with HIV.
There is no question that the book represents an enormous amount of work with 858 pages and more than 175 footnotes. The problem is, however, the author approached his task from an intuitive model rather than the kind of deductive process that every scientist uses in developing a hypothesis after observing a phenomenon. As Sir Frances Bacon argued in 'New Organon' that the first step in constructing a theory is the assembly of as much factual information with as few preconceptions as possible.
One of Mr. Hooper's first preconceived notions was about me when he states in a letter to Gaston Ninane, a friend of mine from the days of the Congo 'I'm no more of afan of him (Koprowski) and his party than you are'. The letter was written on February 1, 1993 before the author of the book had met me. The book is full of ad hominum attacks against me. Rather than make a point by point rebuttal, I will just cite one of them. One Victor Cabasso is quoted that I was fired from Lederle Laboratories. No attempt to corroborate the story was made.
That it was unethical to conduct trials in the Congo implies that we were asking the Congolese to take risks not taken by others. Hooper conveniently overlooks the fact that Tom Norton and I were the first to take the vaccine, followed by my children and that at the same time trials were conducted in the Congo, the vaccine was being given in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Switzerland and Poland. No one given that vaccine came down with HIV except for the Congolese. In other words, HIV was already present in Africa and as Dr Plotkin has shown you, had nothing to do with the polio trials.
Another statement was made that CHAT, our vaccine, was experimental and its use in the Congo unjustified without placebo controls. One must remember that at the time polio was an AlDS-like crisis and demanded swift containment. In my correspondence with Belgium authorities at the time I requested a placebo-controlled trial, but they refused on the grounds that it might delay implementation of the vaccination programme. Should an AIDS vaccine be developed today I am sure some of my most vocal critics would be clammering to get it on to the market as soon as possible even if it meant bending some rules.
When I learned that a book was being written about the history of the oral polio vaccine, the publisher received a letter asking for a chance to review the book for scientific accuracy. As most of you know, science is not easy for the non scientist, but the publisherwas, perhaps, more interested in sensationalism than truth and refused our request. As a result, the publication of this book and the totally erroneous arguments on which it is based has caused near hysteria, with Koprowski being called the 'greatest murderer in history'.
I hope that by the end of this conference you will judge me for my achievements, for developing the oral polio vaccine which has saved millions of lives which has nothing to do with the dissemination of AIDS
Contact: Hilary Koprowski, M.D.