The polio vaccine was announced to the world on April 12, 1955. Less than two months later, conspiracy theorists were already promoting sinister theories about the vaccine. Here is a look at some of the more popular conspiracy theories regarding the polio vaccine over the years.
Conspiracy theories revolving around the polio vaccine have circulated for nearly 60 years. The first conspiracy theory was proposed by Eustance Mullins back in 1955.
In an article entitled “Jews Mass Poison American Children” in the June 1955 issue of Women’s Voice, Eustace Mullins claimed the polio vaccine was a plot by Jews to poison American children:
One of the most shocking and sadistic episodes in the history of the world is now being carried out in the United States by Jewish mass poisoners of children! Jonas Salk, Yiddish inventor of a so-called polio vaccine, is directing the inoculation of millions of American children with this sinister concoction of live polio germs. All that is known is that it CAUSES polio in an alarming percentage of children injected with it, while its effectiveness in preventing polio is a myth of Jewish propaganda.
As one commentator after another warns over the radio that the Jewish Salk vaccine contains live polio germs which are killing our children, the nation’s press refuses to carry these warnings, preferring to see children die rather than criticize the sacred Jew vaccine. Instead, the press prints testimonial after testimonial in FAVOR of the Jew vaccine from the filthy immoral rats in the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington which is nothing but a publicity bureau for Jewish poisons such as fluorine in water.
If we look at history, we discover that the Jews have been attacked many times for poisoning and murdering children, but seldom have they found a method so clever and diabolical as the Salk vaccine. It is not too late to save our children from this latest atrocity of the Jews!
A snippet of Mullins’ quote above was included in the 2000 book Bad Predictions by Laura Lee.
23 years later, in his 1988 book Murder by Injection, Mullins did not echo the sentiments above, but instead implied that the polio vaccine was an unnecessary immunization to line the pockets of drug manufacturers.
After all, one has to think of the national economy, and of drug manufacturers geared up to the continuous production of a vaccine for an epidemic which has disappeared. Think of the unemployment, and the diminution of dividends to the holders of stock in the Drug Trust.
Mullins provided no evidence in support of his theories.
Pakistan: Spies and Genocide
Polio workers have been targeted and killed in Pakistan by those who claim health workers are U.S. spies attempting to make children in the country sterile. This conspiracy theory was fueled by a real incident involving a fake vaccination program launched by the CIA in 2011. This was aimed at finding Osama bin Laden by obtaining DNA samples from people in the town where he was believed to be hiding.
A Global Post article from 2013 reports that some Pakistan citizens believe that polio vaccines are laced with pig’s blood in order to kill large numbers of people in that country. The article notes that “many of the falsities about polio are spread by religious leaders, who often don’t have a formal education, but can disseminate information to a large number of people in their local language.”
In 2014, CNN reported that 11 people were killed when two vans carrying a polio vaccination team were hit by a roadside bomb. 22 vaccination workers have been killed in the country since 2012.
Pakistan is listed as one of three “infected countries” by polioeradication.org.
In late 2014, the New York Times noted that the death toll among polio workers in Pakistan had reached 65 over the past 2 years. In October 2014, as Pakistan passed its 200th polio case for the year, The Washington Post pointed out that the country accounted for 80% of global cases.
Nigeria: Mistrust, Sterilization, and HIV
Opposition to the polio vaccination in Nigeria made news in 2002, when the BBC reported that Muslim clerics had expressed reservations about the program, citing a Pfizer drug trial (for the antibiotic “Trovan” – which is unrelated to polio) that killed 11 children and left 200 others brain damaged in 1996. That case was finally settled in 2009. One scholar told the French news agency AFP at the time, “I am skeptical and apprehensive about the polio campaign given the desperation and the rush of the sponsors, who are all from the West.”
Nigeria suspended polio vaccinations from 2002 until 2004, when they were finally convinced the vaccine did not contain estrogen, anti-ferility substances, or HIV.
In 2005, the BBC reported that several states in northern Nigeria had banned polio vaccinations because some Islamic leaders had accused the program of being a plot by the West to spread infertility among African girls.
Some suspicious leaders have also claimed that “tainted” vaccines were being promoted by “America and their Western allies.” Datti Ahmed, a doctor who heads the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria was quoted as saying, “We believe that modern-day Hitlers have deliberately adulterated the oral polio vaccines with anti-fertility drugs and…viruses which are known to cause HIV and AIDS.”
By early 2013, a total of nine polio vaccinators had been murdered in the region. Vaccination fears in Nigeria have led to the country being described by PolioEradication.org as “one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild poliovirus in the world.”
Claim: Polio Vaccine Caused HIV Epidemic
Several groups developed polio vaccines in the late 1950’s, including one used in trials by Hilary Koprowski. His vaccine was derived from macaque monkeys and was given to about a million people in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi.
A 1992 investigative story by Tom Curtis was published in Rolling Stone and suggested a link between Koprowski’s oral polio vaccine (OPV) and HIV. Koprowski sued, and the case was settled before going to court. Rolling Stone paid Koprowski one dollar and issued a “clarification,” which stated:
The editors of Rolling Stone wish to clarify that they never intended to suggest in the article that there is any scientific proof, nor do they know of any scientific proof, that Dr. Koprowski, an illustrious scientist, was in fact responsible for introducing AIDS to the human population or that he is the father of AIDS…. Dr. Koprowski’s pioneering work in developing polio vaccines has helped spare suffering and death to hundreds of thousands of potential victims of paralytic poliomyelitis and is perhaps one of his greatest contributions in a lifetime of high and widely recognized achievements.
A 1999 book by Edward Hooper entitled The River: a journey to the source of HIV and AIDS also postulated that early polio vaccines introduced HIV-1 to the human population. Nature and Science both published several articles in 2001 examining a possible polio-HIV link. These articles concluded that HIV-1 was most likely introduced to humans decades earlier, thus unrelated to the polio vaccine.
In 2001, Science noted that the polio-HIV “theory fails some crucial tests,” and concludes:
The new data may not convince the hardened conspiracy theorist who thinks that contamination of OPV by chimpanzee virus was subsequently and deliberately covered up. But those of us who were formerly willing to give some credence to the OPV hypothesis will now consider that the matter has been laid to rest.
Some have also pointed out that HIV should have appeared as a pediatric problem had it originated from a vaccine given to children. The History of Vaccines summarizes the debate in an article entited, Debunked: The Polio Vaccine and HIV Link.
The Congo vaccine trials took place in the late 1950s—at least a decade after HIV had begun spreading in humans, and probably longer, according to more recent estimates (Worobey 2008). The vaccine could not have been the source of a virus that had already been infecting humans for many years.
In the face of a growing body of research that disproves a polio-HIV link, Hooper has now retracted into a defensive stance, claiming it “large organised cover-up that has taken, and is taking place on this issue.”
Bill Gates: Eugenics and Paralysis
Conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and his accompanying website Infowars have been on the forefront of a conspiracy theory that Bill Gates-funded vaccines have led to paralysis of children in poor countries. One of Jones’ minions asked Gates to respond to accusations that his vaccination program was nothing more than eugenic. The person asking the question also asserted that “over 48,000 children in India have been paralyzed due to polio vaccines linked to your foundation.”
Public health officials in India, however, have said that between “100 and 180 children in India develop vaccine-associated polio paralysis (VAPP) each year, a rare but serious side effect of the OPV they had received to protect them from the wild poliovirus. As opposed to VDPV infection, VAPP affects the vaccinated children themselves.”
The “48,000 paralyzed” number touted by conspiracy theorists refers to non-polio enterovirus (NPEV) discussed in this study of afflicted children in India.
In March 2014, it was reported that India had increased measures to ensure travelers from certain countries, such as Pakistan, have received the polio vaccine because, in part, “India has not reported any case of polio for over three years.”
The polio vaccine has attracted conspiracy theories since its introduction in the 1950’s. Most of these theories are baseless, and have been repeatedly debunked by a variety of sources. In countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan, these conspiracy theories have hampered efforts to eradicate the disease.
Updated May 7, 2015
Originally published April 2014