Comments on the Papers by Stanley Plotkin and Hilary Koprowski
Comments on the papers by Stanley Plotkin and Hilary Koprowski presented at the Royal Society meeting on "Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic" in September 2000
Edward Hooper, Somerset, U.K. October 15, 2000
All three papers presented by doctors Plotkin and Koprowski at this conference were characterised by inaccuracies, errors and obfuscation.
Because of work pressures, I have not yet found the time to draw up a response to the additional article by S.A. Plotkin, D.E. Teuwen, A. Prinzie and J. Desmyter, "Postscript relating to new allegations made by Edward Hooper at the Royal Society Discussion meeting on 11 September 2000"; Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B; 2001; 356; 825-830. This article was added to the proceedings of the Royal Society meeting on "Origins of HIV and the AIDS Epidemic" in response to the paper which I delivered at the meeting, and its inclusion in the published papers appeared to be a matter of some secrecy. The fact that I was not allowed to make a similar response to the papers delivered by Plotkin and Koprowski at that meeting is suggestive of bias on the part of professors Weiss and Wain-Hobson, who edited the proceedings.
For the time being, therefore, I restrict myself to the responses I made in October 2000 to the original speeches that were delivered by professors Plotkin and Koprowski on September 11, 2000.
1) My response to "Untruths and Consequences: The False Hypothesis Linking CHAT Type 1 Polio Vaccination to the Origin of HIV", by Dr Stanley Plotkin.
It is my belief that Dr Stanley Plotkin's paper presented at the Royal Society on September 11, 2000, "Untruths and Consequences", contains many incorrect statements, and that - given the attention which has been focussed on Dr Plotkin's claims - it is important that these should not continue to go unchallenged.
The comments below refer to statements made in Dr Plotkin's speech ("Oral Version #7", which was circulated at the Royal Society meeting), itemised by (a) page number and (b) paragraph number.
Page 2, paragraph 3: PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "[Hooper's] argument...boils down to two assertions: first, that the vaccine was prepared in the kidneys of SIV-infected chimpanzees...
RESPONSE: I do not ASSERT that CHAT vaccine was prepared in chimpanzee kidneys. I hypothesise that this may have happened, and provide background evidence to support that hypothesis. [The claim that I have asserted what I have in fact hypothesised is a subtle, but persistent, misrepresentation which appears throughout Dr Plotkin's paper. See, for instance, 6/6, 8/2 and 10/3 etc.]
3/2: The typed history of CHAT from 1958 or early 1959, as provided by Dr Plotkin and copied in slide 3, represents the first time that the CHAT vaccine developers have ever provided any type of passage history for this vaccine. It is therefore very welcome. However, it still provides no evidence about the substrate in which different pools of CHAT vaccine were produced - at the Wistar Institute, in Belgium, or elsewhere.
3/4 (point 2). PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "All passages are indicated as having been made in MK, standing for monkey kidney cells...I would have never referred to chimpanzee kidney as monkey kidney".
RESPONSE: This assertion by Dr Plotkin cannot be proven. It is of note that the normal dictionary definition for "monkey" includes the great apes (such as chimpanzees), and that, by these standards, there would be no reason not to include "chimp kidney tissue culture" within the umbrella of "monkey kidney tissue culture".
3/4 (point 2). PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "These [MK] were cells of rhesus or cynomolgus origin, received as suspended cells or monolayers from Microbiological Associates"
RESPONSE: Again, this assertion by Dr Plotkin cannot be proven. The species used for vaccine production is never mentioned in any of the CHAT papers before the 1960s - long after the key period for this debate. (By contrast, the primate species used for the safety testing of CHAT vaccine is frequently specified.) And the first reference to cells for poliovirus culture being supplied by Microbiological Associates - in a paper on genetic markers, not on vaccines - comes in 1960.
3/6 (point 4): PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "No seed virus was used. Rather each [vaccine] pool served as seed virus for a subsequent [vaccine] pool."
RESPONSE: The claim that each CHAT vaccine pool was passaged directly from the previous pool is surprising, in that even in 1958 or 1959 (when this table was apparently drawn up) it was recognised to be far safer to produce each vaccine pool from a well-characterised master seed lot, so as to minimise the risk of ongoing contamination. (Indeed, nowadays there are strict restrictions about the maximum number of passages that may be made from a master seed lot.) Of course, Dr Plotkin's claim highlights the fact that any laboratory could produce a batch or pool of CHAT, provided it had tissue culture material, and a previous sample of the vaccine. There was no need to have a supply of the CHAT seed virus. This takes the focus off the Wistar Institute, and it also supports my hypothesis that many labs could have had the materials required to produce a batch of CHAT in chimp kidney tissue culture.
4/1: PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "[W]hen Wyeth, the commercial vaccine manufacturer, became involved in the production of CHAT, they did produce a seed pool."
RESPONSE: This is significant, because it shows that, starting in late 1958 or 1959, the feedings of CHAT pools 4B-5 and 18 were of vaccine made commercially, employing stricter methods of production. The timings suggest that the larger trials in the U.S., on 96 infants at Clinton prison, New Jersey (starting December 1958), and on 850 persons in Philadelphia, starting in January 1959, involved Wyeth-made CHAT pool 4B-5. And it is known that the mass-trial involving over 7 million children in Poland, starting in June 1959, involved Wyeth-made CHAT pool 18.
5/1: PLOTKIN'S CLAIM: "It is unlikely that a batch of chimpanzee kidneys or cells would have escaped the notice of all these people." (In Table 1, Dr Plotkin lists six people who "never saw/heard of chimpanzee cells", and one, Dr Koprowski, who "never approved use of chimpanzee cells".)
RESPONSE: By contrast, the widow of Koprowski's lab chief, Tom Norton, (who died in the 70s), told me she thought he had returned from Stanleyville in March 1957 with some 4 pairs of chimp kidneys, and that they were taken to the Wistar, even though he and Dr Koprowski did not begin working there formally until May 1957. It is noteworthy that the scientists and technicians quoted by Plotkin do not (as he later claims CHECK) deny that chimp kidneys were ever used at the Wistar; rather they say they never saw or heard of chimpanzee cells there - which is very different. But would they have noticed if they were sent the kidneys of young chimpanzees? The Wistar Institute did not have a monkey house, and so any kidneys which came there would have arrived already excised. In this circumstance, can anyone say with confidence that he or she would have known the difference between the kidneys of rhesus macaques, and those of young chimps? According to a veterinary pathologist who has been consulted on this issue, nobody could have differentiated excised primate kidneys by species without sequencing technology, which was not available until the late 1980s.
5/2: PLOTKIN'S CLAIM:
RESPONSE: Unlike Koprowski, other vaccine producers did state which primates they used for polio vaccine preparation in other publications. (See "River", pages 246-247, and chapter 18, notes 8 to 12.)
5/3: This paragraph refers to a paper which describes only the types of primate cells which were USUALLY used to make polio vaccine - not the primate cells which Koprowski's team used to make CHAT. Furthermore, the paper was written in 1961, and has no relevance for the crucial early years of CHAT manufacture (1956-1959).
5/4: "Monkey kidney cells" is non-specific, and does not exclude chimpanzee kidney cells, at least not if one employs the normal dictionary definition of monkey, which covers all primates from the lemurs to the apes. And once again, this paper relates to 1961.
6/3: The paper cited by Plotkin does not specify that CHAT vaccine was usually grown in monkey kidney - merely that it was in this one experiment (apparently conducted in 1960).
6/6: Again, Plotkin ascribes a statement instead of a proposition, when he claims that "Hooper says that chimpanzee cells were used to make oral polio vaccine...in Belgium".
7/4: Dr Prinzie's emphatic denial on this point is spurious. Dr Prinzie stated clearly on tape, in September 1996, that the vaccine used in "the trial in Belgian Congo...in 1958...of about 200,000 vaccinees" must have been produced in Belgium during his absence in America (September 1957 to December 1958), and that these "small batches...must have been made at the Rega". He can only have been describing the mass trial of 215,000 persons in the Ruzizi valley between February and April 1958. During a phone conversation the following year, he confirmed that to begin with "small quantities, a few hundred thousand doses" of CHAT had been made at the Rega, and that later on Stanley Plotkin came over to organise larger scale CHAT production (at RIT).
8/1: Plotkin says he tested Belgian-made CHAT at Clinton prison for the first time in April 1959, but this does not mean that this was the first time CHAT was produced in Belgium.
8/1: Plotkin asserts that Belgian-made CHAT was not made in chimp cells - but on what basis?
8/2: Plotkin claims that I assert that CHAT vaccine was produced at the medical lab in Stanleyville in February to March 1958. Incorrect. In one paragraph on page 839, I hypothesise that it might have been.
9/2: Gaston Ninane is said to have denied having tried to make chimp cultures from chimpanzees, calling statements that he did "lies". My tape recorded interview with him in May 1994 shows that he did say this. It should be pointed out that Dr Ninane was a few months from dying from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease when he agreed to sign the statement of denial for doctors Koprowski and Prinzie.
10/3: Again, I did not assert that CHAT was made at Stanleyville [see 8/2].
10/4: It would be interesting to know on what basis Dr Dherte claims that it was "completely impossible" to produce polio vaccine in Stanleyville. We know that polioviruses and polio vaccines were being grown in the kidneys of different African primates - including chimpanzees - in at least one other Congolese lab (that of Dr Jezierski) between 1953 and 1957.
11/1: Dr Osterrieth states that chimp autopsies were never performed in the main building at the medical laboratory at Stanleyville. He fails to comment, however, on the information contained in the new (paperback) postscript to "The River", that chimps were regularly cut open and sacrificed at Lindi camp itself, and that during this process organs were removed by the Belgian doctors, placed in large flasks, and taken away.
11/2: As I have demonstrated in the book, different batches and lots of CHAT vaccine were prepared in different labs. Despite Dr Plotkin's claim to the contrary, there is no evidence that the pool 13 fed in Leopoldville was "exactly the same lot as used in Poland". Dr Plotkin now insists the Leopoldville lots of CHAT were made at the Wistar, but the virologist Henry Gelfand, who hand-carried the CHAT pool 13 vaccine from Brussels to Leopoldville for that trial in August 1958, says he is 99.9% certain that the vaccine was made not at the Wistar, but at a lab just outside Brussels (which sounds like the Rega Institute or RIT). The pool 13 made at the Wistar was probably fed to a few infants at Clinton, and at a trial of less than 3,000 children in Wyszkow, Poland.
12/1: Dr Plotkin says there was no secret about the chimp work being carried out at Lindi. This is disingenuous. Apart from the occasional vague descriptions of the work which Dr Plotkin cites (all of which are listed in my book), no detailed records of the experiments were ever published, and a promised paper about the polio experiments in chimps never appeared.
12/2: Plotkin states that the Lindi chimps were "not likely to have been infected with an SIV". On what basis? Even if we accept that most of the chimps were juvenile, the current evidence is that between 2 and 3% of juvenile Pan troglodytes troglodytes and Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii chimps are naturally SIV-infected, which means that up to 12 of the 400 chimps used in the polio research would probably have been SIV-infected upon entry to the camp. Further infections would be expected because of the co-caging policies (which included one big cage in which up to ten chimps were allowed to play) which were the norm at Lindi.
13/2: Plotkin claims that 187(?) liver biopsies conducted at Lindi for the hepatitis research are "undoubtedly" the source of the account of organ extraction which was given me in July 1999 by "Antoine", a former Lindi camp worker. Not so. Antoine described procedures in which the animal would be anaesthetised, and then opened up right down its chest, with entire organs being removed before it died. These accounts are nothing like the procedures used to remove a small piece of liver for a liver biopsy. Plotkin also says that this account was "allegedly" given me by Antoine, implying that he doubts the report's veracity. The most detailed interview with Antoine was recorded on audio tape.
13/3: Dr Bugyaki's statement quoted by Dr Plotkin, in which he denies any knowledge of chimp kidneys ever being sent to Belgium, apparently ends with the words: "or to other countries". This statement was apparently made in February 2000. But in 1994, Dr Bugyaki told me unequivocally that he had been told by doctors Ninane and Osterrieth that chimp kidneys had been sent from Stanleyville to the U.S., at the request of Dr Koprowski. He confirmed this account in July 2000, and in addition signed a detailed statement to that effect. When phoned again after the Royal Society conference, and asked to clarify the situation, he once again clearly stated that Ninane and Osterrieth had told him chimp kidneys had been sent from Stanleyville to the U.S. I have no idea under what circumstances Dr Plotkin's considerably vaguer statement from Dr Bugyaki was obtained; (Bugyaki himself was not clear about this). However, it is worth adding that at least one other approach made by Dr Plotkin's team to a medical worker who helped vaccinate with CHAT in Africa in the 1950s was described by the object of the approach as "a dishonourable proposition". (On two occasions this man was sent a typed letter with his name pencilled in at the bottom; he was invited to sign in ink. He refused. When asked why, he told us that he could not sign a document stating things which, as far as he knew, were untrue.)
14/1 and 14/2: The statements by doctors Mortelmans and Ninane on these two pages do not conflict with what they said to me (and what is reported in "The River"), save that they are now placing a slightly different spin on what they meant.
14/3: "Two circumstances are particularly cited by Mr Hooper to show a relationship between CHAT and AIDS". This is misleading. I had already demonstrated in "The River" that 64% of the earliest recorded AIDS cases (through 1980) from Africa come from the same towns and villages where CHAT was fed, as do over 80% of Africa's earliest HIV-positive blood samples. The two possible connections involving Kikwit and Lubudi were merely offered as additional instances of a possible vaccine connection. Dr Plotkin misrepresents these as being focal to my case.
[An aside. At the Royal Society conference epidemiologist Dr Kevin de Cock and others - such as Dr Koprowski - sought to explain away the percentage correlations cited above. In doing this, De Cock used three unfair techniques. (a) He focussed solely on the Congo data, thus removing the Ruanda-Urundi correlations from the equation. (b) He claimed (without supporting evidence) that those places where AIDS was seen were all on normal routes of travel (even though 2 of the 18 AIDS cases and five of the 46 HIV-positive samples came from rural locations). Furthermore, there are many, many transport routes in Africa, so why did HIV only diffuse along those where CHAT vaccine was also used? (c) He stated - correctly, but irrelevantly - that there must have been other cases of HIV and AIDS which were never recorded. In other words, De Cock concentrated solely on trying to undermine the correlations, but at no point did he attempt to explain why there should have been such a remarkable coincidence between CHAT feeding and the first recorded appearances of HIV and AIDS in the world.]
15/2 - 16/3: I made no certain claims for the numbers vaccinated in Kikwit (see the absence of a figure for Kikwit in column 3 in the table on page 742). My statement that up to half of the population of Kikwit (including some white people) were "apparently" vaccinated in May 1959 was based on the recollections of Dr Michel Vandeputte, given in interview in 1997, even if he now recalls vaccinating "no more than a few hundred children". (In my notebook, there is some ambivalence about whether the doctors left before they had vaccinated half the population of Kikwit, or half of that in Kikwit military camp, but the notebook of my research assistant, who took part in the interview, reads: "think up to half Kikwit vaccinated".) My claim that Kikwit was revaccinated in November 1959 was based on testimony from Dr Andre Lebrun, given in 1995 (again confirmed from my notebook). I am grateful to Dr Plotkin for his new information that the latter vaccination (of 627 persons) actually took place in Moanda, not Kikwit - although I must add that this is the first time that he has contributed meaningful information to the inquiry about CHAT vaccinations in Africa. Given his failure (until now) to provide any but the barest details about African CHAT vaccination sites, and the frequently inaccurate claims about African geography made previously by his colleague, Dr Koprowski, Plotkin's sarcastic comment that Moanda is 450 miles from Kikwit, "which may be too far even for Mr Hooper's generous standards of geographical proximity", is disingenuous, and does him little credit.
15/3: In interview in 1994, Plotkin told me that in order to allay local fears (in Kikwit in May 1959) about their taking pre-vaccination blood samples, he and his colleagues proceeded to bleed, publicly, a group of European adults. Plotkin now claims that no adults were vaccinated in Kikwit, but in the circumstances, is it not possible that these European adults were also publicly fed the vaccine, again in order to allay local fears? (Certainly Dr Vandeputte, in 1997, agreed that this was possible.) What I am trying to stress is that there have been different recollections (and different statements made) about this particular vaccination, which was never formally reported in the literature. Given this fact, can we be absolutely confident that no white adults were vaccinated with CHAT in Kikwit?
16/4: Lubudi. First of all, as I announced at the conference, this is (the) one instance where I have to say "Mea culpa". Lubudi, as Dr Plotkin points out, is not a proven CHAT vaccination site, and therefore should not have been included in the list of 28 sites where CHAT was fed. However, having said that, there are good reasons for believing that a vaccination did take place here. First of all "the regions of Kabare-Lubudi" (note the plural) were mentioned as an intended vaccination venue at the May 1959 press conference staged by Dr Plotkin (with two Belgian colleagues, doctors Courtois and Lebrun) in Leopoldville - and vaccinations did indeed occur in the other two venues mentioned on that occasion as intended CHAT vaccination sites (Stanleyville and Ruanda-Urundi). Second, Dr Plotkin is correct when he says that Kabare and Lubudi are more than 500 miles apart - but this does not mean that Lubudi was a misprint for Lubutu, as Plotkin suggests. In fact, there is a much better explanation, for there is in fact a strong link between the two places, which were home to two of the four parastatal cement factories in the country. It is entirely possible that an arrangement was made with a company medical officer (as happened in other towns, like Aketi, where a company doctor staged the first-ever large-scale oral polio vaccination in the Congo - using CHAT - in May 1957). Third, although Plotkin is correct in that both doctors Delville and Pattyn attest that CHAT vaccinations were never conducted officially, through government channels, in Katanga province, Dr Delville did tell me in interview in 1997 that CHAT had "probably" been fed at Lubudi through one of the private or parastatal companies. For the time being, however, until there is proof positive, Lubudi should not be considered a CHAT vaccination site. Please note that this makes no difference to the percentages of "direct hits" between CHAT feeding and the earliest AIDS cases in Africa, through 1980, (64% of the latter came from towns and villages which had been vaccinated), and CHAT feeding and early HIV-1 infections, through 1980, (over 80% correlation).
17/2: As indicated above, the vaccination at Lubudi, and the vaccination of white adults at Kikwit are not proven. (Neither are they disproven.) However, it is completely untrue to assert, as Plotkin does, that these are "the two... cases which would be most useful to bolster Mr Hooper's case". In fact, they would merely be icing on the cake. Lubudi makes no difference to the "direct-hit" CHAT/AIDS correlations, and I am quite prepared to accept that HIV infection may have arrived here not through CHAT, but with migrant workers from other HIV-infected areas. And the Kikwit case is entirely irrelevant to the CHAT/AIDS through 1980 correlations, since the couple who lived in Kikwit in 1958, and who left the Congo in 1968, never to return, only developed AIDS in 1986 and 1987. Dr Plotkin's misrepresentation of the importance of these episodes to my argument is only reinforced by the fact that at least one of the versions in circulation of his Figure 5, which purports to show a montage of my "CHAT" and "early AIDS" maps (for the originals, see pages 744 and 745 of "The River"), has two additional AIDS cases inserted from Kikwit. Since the other cases shown on my maps involve AIDS cases for which onset of disease was up to and including 1980, AIDS cases which first presented in 1986 and 1987 do not qualify for inclusion. I believe that Dr Plotkin's selective alteration of my data is both unscientific and highly questionable.
17/3: Plotkin is right when he claims that only 10 of the 38 African AIDS cases through 1980 which I cite are HIV-confirmed; for most of the rest sera and tissues for retrospective testing were not available. However, all 38 cases were proposed as instances of AIDS not by me, but by experienced African-based doctors.
17/3: Why did I choose 175 miles? For one very simple reason. All 23 of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi-based AIDS cases for which a specific town was cited came from within 175 miles of a CHAT vaccination venue. This is out of a total of 28 African AIDS cases for which a specific town is cited pre-1980; the other five all came from countries bordering the former Belgian colonies. (If we remove Lubudi from the equation, then the 175-mile correlation is reduced to 21 of 28.)
17/4: Plotkin says that this correlation is "scarcely surprising", because 15 of the 17 "direct-hit" AIDS cases come from just two towns: Kinshasa and Kisangani. He ignores the fact that of the other 6 (of 21) AIDS cases within 175 miles of a CHAT venue, four are different small towns, while two are rural areas. He glides over the fact that according to Dr Hahn's theory of natural transfer, which he favours, the ancestral chimp virus first crossed to humans in the range of one particular chimpanzee subspecies which lives in a different part of Africa (west central Africa): Congo Brazzaville, Gabon and Cameroon. This is at least 150 miles from Kinshasa, and 500 to 1000 miles from the other early AIDS sites. He ignores the fact that of all the directions which his putative "first HIV" might have travelled from west central Africa, it seems to have travelled only towards those towns and villages where CHAT vaccine was used.
18/1: Plotkin's observation that not every African CHAT vaccination site correlates with an early instance of AIDS is facile, firstly because (as I made clear in the book) different substrates may have been used for the CHAT batches used in different trials, and secondly because nobody would expect every early AIDS case to be detected. The mooted vaccine trials at Lubudi and (of white adults) at Kikwit are, I agree, not proven. But otherwise these three and a half pages (pp14-18) of supposed "data" from Dr Plotkin is nothing more than empty verbiage designed to distract from the obvious, and startling, correlations between places where CHAT was fed, and the very first appearances of HIV-1 and AIDS.
18/2 and 18/3: I fully accept that Bujumbura is a small city, while Rumonge is a semi-urban area which features truck-drivers among its regular visitors. What Dr Plotkin has still completely failed to explain is why these two towns where CHAT was vaccinated in 1958, and which lie a thousand miles away from his mooted source in west central Africa, had probably the highest HIV-prevalence in the world (8% and 12%, respectively) in 1980-1. Was this just bad luck - like all the other unfortunate correlations right across the former Belgian Congo?
19/2 and 19/3: Dr Plotkin makes great play of the fact that the believed first case of AIDS in the USA (an infant girl from Newark, NJ, who displayed first symptoms in 1973 or 1974) could not have been the daughter of one of those infants vaccinated with CHAT at Clinton prison, 50 miles away, between 1956 and 1958. Firstly, unfairly, he fails to point out that I approached Dr James Oleske three times in order to check whether the name of the girl's mother might match that of one of the Clinton vaccinees. Secondly, he has still failed to explain the location of this rogue case, which occurs at least four years before any other confirmed case of AIDS in the US. It is entirely possible that the mother (a 16-year-old promiscuous drug-injector) was herself infected with HIV by a Clinton vaccinee of similar age.
20/3: Plotkin says that: "The River has been praised for its precise detail and wealth of footnotes, but one can be precise without being accurate." One might add that others who would like to claim that they are precise and accurate might end up being rather more effectively tarred with the same brush.
20/5: Plotkin asserts that: "not a shred of evidence supports the idea that chimpanzee cells were actually used to make polio vaccine". During the conference, I challenged doctors Plotkin and Koprowski to explain why one former worker at Lindi camp had told me that, during the late fifties, up to five chimpanzees a day were sacrificed and opened up down the middle, with large organs being removed by the Belgian doctors. Plotkin replied that these were "obviously" liver biopsies. I would propose the opposite: that these were obviously not liver biopsies. (For one thing, a liver biopsy requires a totally different procedure: a small cut of up to two inches is made, and a piece "the size of a little finger joint" removed. For another, my Lindi informant also described procedures just like this, when small pieces were cut out and put in test-tubes, and he distinguished between these procedures - of procuring biopsy or autopsy samples - and the other instances when entire organs were removed, on a regular basis, between 1956 and 1959.) Later, I asked Dr Koprowski to explain why another lab worker from Bujumbura had described the removal of kidneys, one at a time, from chimpanzees held at the lab, and the dispatch of these kidneys to a vaccine-making lab in Butare, Rwanda. Koprowski's response - that my source was probably a a "low technician" who did not know one organ from another, or understand what he was seeing - was revealing, and it drew boos and catcalls from a sizeable section of the audience. It is certainly true that nobody, to date, has PROVED that chimp kidneys were used to make certain batches of CHAT vaccine that were fed in Africa, but Dr Plotkin's airy dismissal of the possibility at the Royal Society press conference: "There is no gun, there is no bullet, there is no motive, there is only smoke created by Mr Hooper" is increasingly revealed to be a catchy sound-bite that lacks substance.
20/6: Dr Plotkin ends his speech as follows: "The River is fundamentally meretricious, and does not withstand critical analysis". In fact, despite enlisting the support of a phalanx of lawyers, researchers, public relations advisors and press advisors, Dr Plotkin has only managed to establish that there MAY be two errors (relating to Kikwit and Lubudi) in the 1,100 pages of "The River". And at no point has he managed to establish that my book is "fundamentally meretricious" (showily attractive, or flashy).
Additional comment on Dr Plotkin's figures and tables.....
Table 5: This states that lot (or pools) 10A-11 and 13 were manufactured at the Wistar. I believe this is not the whole story. According to the testimony of doctors Ninane ("River", page 358 and 568) and Prinzie (quoted above), at least part of the pool 10A-11 fed to 215,504 people in the Ruzizi Valley was made in Belgium, though that prepared for the minor trials (less than 2,000 doses) in Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. was probably manufactured at the Wistar. And according to the testimony of Henry Gelfand ("River", page 722 and 731), the pool 13 which he hand-carried from Belgium to Leopoldville, the Congo, and which was fed to 76,000 people there, was manufactured in Belgium. It seems, however, that the 3,000-odd doses of pool 13 fed in Poland and the U.S. may have been made at the Wistar. Also, the available evidence suggests that pool 4B-5, made by Wyeth, was fed in Moorestown, New Jersey, and not in the Congo, as Plotkin surmises.
Table 7: This table reports an incidence of early AIDS (up to 1980, not before 1980, as stated by Plotkin) in the Congo of 1.3 per 100,000 for urban areas, and 0.4 per 100,000 for "rural and mixed". Dr Plotkin contends that this supports his proposition that AIDS occurred first exactly where one would expect - in the major towns. In fact, this urban/rural differential of 3:1 is far less than the >10:1 differential which is more normal, and it fails to explain why AIDS occurred first only in those towns and rural areas where CHAT was fed.
Table 10: This table does indeed record estimates of when HIV-1 Group M first began to spread; but it should be emphasised that there is still no proof that HIV-1 existed before 1959.
Figure 3: There are some intriguing details on this chart, which Dr Plotkin defines as "a history of CHAT which I drew up in 1958 or 1959." (He adds that the pencil lines of the original document were faded, and so they were reinforced for the photograph, which indicates that this is a photocopy of the original typescript and pencil document.) And indeed, the typeface is indeed old-fashioned (and rather worn). But there are intriguing anomalies about this chart. Firstly, it is strange that a document drawn up in 1958 or 1959 does not refer to CHAT, but rather to Charlton, the provisional name of this strain in 1956, while Koprowksi was still at Lederle. (Indeed, the word is even misspelt, as "Charleton".) More importantly, after the word "Wyeth", the words "To be verified" appear in brackets. One can understand why the Wyeth part of the history might have required verification in the year 2000, but is is hard to think of a reason why "Wyeth" needed to be "verified" in 1958 or 1959, just days or weeks after the vaccine house had made the 4B-5 seed pool. I would like Dr Plotkin to clarify this matter.
Figure 5: Montage of maps of AIDS cases and CHAT vaccinations from "The River": see comment in text above.
In conclusion, I have to say that Dr Plotkin's trenchant criticisms of "The River" fail to find their mark. However, such criticisms do apply remarkably well to his own misleading attempts to "correct the misrepresentations". If anyone doubts this, I would invite them to read "The River", and compare the text with Dr Plotkin's claims about the book.
I am prepared to make available (as I have already done for two reporters), at a time convenient to me, the first-hand evidence (tape recordings, tape transcripts and notebook entries) that supports the claims made in this response to Dr Plotkin's paper.
2) My response to "Hypotheses and Facts", by Dr Hilary Koprowski
The comments below refer to statements made in the version of Dr Koprowski's speech (marked "For Press") that was circulated at the Royal Society meeting, itemised by (a) page number and (b) paragraph number.
Page 1, paragraph 2, and page 2, para 1: I utterly reject Dr Koprowski's claim that I failed to seek out evidence to disprove the OPV/AIDS hypothesis. Throughout the eight years that I investigated this theory, I constantly tried to test it, and/or disprove it. Indeed, I always held back from accepting evidence which seemed to prove the theory, until I had checked and rechecked it. An example was Gaston Ninane's claim, during our first interview, that CHAT had been made in chimpanzee kidney tissue. He withdrew this five minutes later, saying he had meant to say MONKEY kidney tissue, not chimp, and I took him at his word. However, during that five minutes, Dr Ninane had reviewed an article in the Lancet which highlighted the close relationship between chimpanzee SIV and HIV-1. So it is certainly possible that he initially spoke the truth, but later backtracked when he realised the implications of what he had said. I decided, however, that the case was not proven, and that it was safer to accept that, speaking in English for my benefit, he had merely suffered a slip of the tongue.
During my eight years of research into CHAT I learnt that the more I investigated, the more supporting evidence emerged for OPV/AIDS, whereas one by one the pieces of apparently confounding evidence (such as the so-called Manchester sailor case) eventually turned out to be false.
I find it interesting that another eminent scientist who made a similar public claim (that I had not tried hard enough to disprove the OPV theory) at the Royal Society meeting, John Maynard Smith, admitted privately to another attendee at the conference that he had not actually read "The River".
2/1: I find Koprowski's claim that "The River" represents "the irresponsible hypothesis of an amateur" intriguing, when his own responses to the hypothesis have involved law-suits, outbursts of rage and unsupported claims that everything is "fantasy" or "speculation", but not one single hard scientific fact (such as a record documenting how the early CHAT vaccine pools were made) to refute the hypothesis.
3/2: Koprowski claims "it is quite clear" that the viral contamination found by Albert Sabin in his CHAT 10A-11 vaccine was caused by Sabin's own passaging of the vaccine in SV40-infected monkey kidney tissue. Similarly, when Professor George Dick found that one of Koprowski's vaccines was highly virulent, Koprowski claimed that this had happened because Dick had performed one further tissue culture passage of the vaccine in his own laboratory. In both instances, Koprowski's claims would appear to be incorrect for, according to their own accounts of the experiments, neither Sabin nor Dick passaged the Koprowski vaccines further before testing them. Indeed, Sabin describes how he tested his own "undiluted vaccine[s]" by exactly the same methods, and found no evidence of contamination in them.
4/1: Koprowski says there is not a single affirmative first-hand witness who says that "we [ever] used chimp kidney" [to make CHAT]. This is quite true, but it should be noted that there is nowadays only one person who would be sure to know whether they did or not - and that is Dr Koprowski himself. Against this must be set the testimonies of some significant (and impartial) secondary witnesses. Tom Norton's widow says that her husband, Koprowski's chief technician, brought chimp kidneys back with him from Lindi camp, and that they were sent to the Wistar. The Stanleyville vet, Louis Bugyaki, despite his equivocal statement to Dr Plotkin's team, has stated clearly on three occasions (and documented once in writing) that chimp kidneys were sent from Lindi to Philadelphia, and that he heard about this from two of the Belgian doctors who were involved in the research: Gaston Ninane and Paul Osterrieth. One of the caretakers at Lindi camp, which was set up so that Koprowski could conduct his research in chimpanzees, gave a detailed account of how the chimps were sacrificed, sometimes five in a day, and large organs removed and placed in metal canisters; he says this happened throughout the three years that the camp was in existence. One of the technicians working at the medical lab in Bujumbura describes how, in the fifties, single kidneys were removed from chimpanzees which were caged there, and sent to a vaccine-making lab in Butare, Rwanda, which was run by Tad Wiktor, a close associate of Koprowski. The chimps were supplied to Bujumbura from another small camp at Kabunambo in the Congo - and it so happens that Bujumbura and Kabunambo were the two places which the CHAT vaccinators used as their headquarters during the Ruzizi Valley mass field trial.
4/2: Koprowski claims that, with regard to details about his travels in the Congo in the fifties, that I "never checked with [him]". This is quite untrue. In 1994, after my two interviews with Dr Koprowski, I sent him (at his request) a follow-up list of 37 further questions. After a few months, when there was no reply, I sent the questions again. Dr Koprowski never replied, although his attorney did then begin sending me letters that were threatening in tone.
4/2 to 5/2: Koprowski relates two minor details from my attempts to reconstruct his travels in the Congo which I have apparently got wrong. In one instance, Koprowski apparently spent three days with Dr Jezierski at Epulu camp (for, inter alia, chimps), not (as I propose might have happened) at Jezierski's lab at Gabu. In the other, he says he visited only Leopoldville, not Stanleyville as well, in 1955. These minor errors make no impact at all on the major picture, which is that Koprowski made arrangements to set up Lindi chimpanzee camp as early as 1955, and that he spent three days with a vet who was growing polioviruses and polio vaccines in the kidneys of 15 different African primates (including chimpanzees) in 1957.
7/1: Koprowski claims that 55 to 65% of the Ruzizi valley children were susceptible to polio. This claim conflicts with a speech he made in June 1958, at which he admitted that only between 5 and 7% of Ruzizi vaccinees were susceptible to Type 1 polio. [River, page 734.]
8/2: But undoubtedly the most disturbing of Dr Koprowski's claims (reinforced in his Royal Society press release) is his assertion that - because of "The River" - the Catholic church has "advised mothers not to take their children for polio vaccination as it was contaminated with HIV". I checked the reference provided by Dr Koprowski (The Daily Nation, Nairobi, Kenya, November 26, 1999), and found that there is nothing about polio vaccine in the newspaper of that date. However, there is a small relevant article in the Nation of one month earlier (October 26, 1999), which states only that polio vaccine posters had been removed from church walls. No reason was given. A review of the polio vaccine file of the Daily Nation newspaper, carried out by a kind Kenyan journalist, revealed that the Catholic church/polio vaccine controversy was not new. Altogether, there were six entries between August 1996 and September 1998; three of these referred to rumours that the vaccine was laced with family planning drugs, and just one, from September 1997, mentioned "rumours linking it [polio vaccine] with HIV infection". "The River" came out in September 1999, and not one of these articles in any way links the book to negative rumours about polio vaccines. Not for the first time, Dr Koprowski's claims, when checked, are found to be inaccurate.
However, a recent article by Jon Cohen ["The Hunt for the Origin of AIDS", Atlantic Monthly, October 2000, p. 104] quotes a Kenyan AIDS vaccine researcher who describes similar problems (Kenyan clergymen discouraging others from taking polio vaccine), and links them to "The River". Again, Cohen's article makes no reference to the fact that such problems had been going on for at least three years before the book came out.
In all interviews (especially radio interviews) which go out to areas where polio vaccination is still ongoing, I have always taken care to emphasise that the CHAT hypothesis questions the safety only of one experimental vaccine made back in the 50s, and that, as far as is known, all polio vaccines made today are safe. Everyone wants to see polio eradicated in the shortest possible time, and to reinforce my commitment to this, I have today submitted the following letter for publication to the editor of the Daily Nation.
I have recently heard that two doctors (one American and one Kenyan) have been claiming that my book, "The River - A Journey Back To The Source of HIV and AIDS" has prompted some people in Kenya to refuse to be vaccinated against polio.
A kind journalist from the Daily Nation has checked back for me in the newspaper's file on polio vaccines, and has found nothing to support these claims. What is apparent is that, over the last four years, there have been occasional rumours that polio vaccines may have been "laced", or contaminated, either with family planning drugs or with HIV. Since "The River" was only published in September 1999, it would seem that it is not the source of these rumours.
As someone who has conducted research into these issues over the last eight years, I would like to state this. Over forty years ago, back in the 1950s, some of the very first polio vaccines that were administered around the world were (unintentionally) contaminated with other viruses, which may very occasionally have caused disease in vaccinees.
However, as far as is known, all polio vaccines produced today are entirely safe. That goes for polio vaccines that are given by injection, as well as those which are given by mouth. The medical community is just a few years away from ridding the planet of polio, which will be a noble achievement - and only the second time that Science has managed to eradicate a deadly disease. (The first was smallpox, eradicated in 1977.)
So, let me give a brief message to all those living in Kenya, and in other countries where polio is still a threat. There is nothing to fear. Please go ahead and take your polio vaccines. That way you will protect yourselves, and your communities too, and you will contribute to the conquest of a deadly disease."