In 2007, Paul Offit published a book dedicated to the life of Maurice Hilleman, who patented more vaccines than any other immunologist in medical history. The title of the book reads “Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases.” And yet, Hilleman himself said he brought what is arguably the world’s deadliest disease to the United States: the AIDS virus. This is the man responsible for most childhood vaccines today, including measles and mumps along with the Hib and Hep B shots that have contained thimerosal. For these alleged achievements, he is hailed as a hero by the medical establishment, but less-flattering historical facts about his experiments and those of other researchers have been swept under the rug.
There is ample evidence Hilleman imported AIDS, and from none other than the spoken words of Maurice Hilleman himself. While critics typically attribute his work to contributing to the autism epidemic, there is little acknowledgment of his role in the AIDS epidemic as well. The explanation for this might be because the primary evidence does not extend much further than a strange video posted on YouTube over a year ago (HERE). The video includes recorded dialogue purported to be an exchange between Maurice Hilleman and his interviewer, Harvard medical historian Prof. Edward Shorter. The description alongside the video says that the interview was cut from an 80’s documentary called “The Health Century.” It started off kind of slow, “I think vaccines are the bargain basement technology of the twentieth century,” says Hilleman. Soon into the video, the voice purported to be Hilleman, dropped a bomb. While talking about his importation of monkeys to the US for vaccine development, Hilleman at one point said he brought some African Green monkeys over from West Africa as advised by the director of the Washington DC zoo, Bill Mann. Then Hilleman said, “and I didn’t know I was importing AIDS virus at the time.” Shorter asked excitedly, “So it was you who brought AIDS into the country?!” Hilleman replied, “This is the real story.” In the background, someone can be heard saying, “What Merck won’t do to develop a vaccine…”
However, the legitimacy of this shocking YouTube at first glance is highly questionable. The visual portion of Maurice Hilleman goes back and forth between being a still image and a moving one of him talking. A typical viewer would be highly skeptical of the authenticity of the background recording claiming to be the voices of Hilleman and Shorter, especially since the audio did not match the visuals. Unconvinced it was real myself, I e-mailed Prof. Shorter’s office now at the University of Toronto, asking if the recording was real. His assistant wrote back saying, “the soundtrack is authentic.”
She then referred me to Shorter’s book version of “The Health Century,” published in 1987 by Doubleday. Interestingly, the book described early uses of mercury in drugs as ineffective, archaic and downright dangerous. This did not include thimerosal, of which there was no mention. The vaccine controversy primarily discussed was whether or not SV40, the virus that contaminated polio vaccines, causes cancer in humans. From the reading, it seemed the health establishment was not too keen on even learning that it caused cancer in hamsters. Bernice Eddy, the animal researcher who made this discovery in the early sixties, became the focus of a medical witch-hunt. She lost her lab, her papers were held up, she was banned from conferences on vaccine safety and she was not allowed to conduct any more research. Eddy was seen as unorthodox, “And yet she was right,” conceded Hilleman. The book also mentions the AIDS ordeal, saying in parentheses at the end of the paragraph about Hilleman’s exchanges with Bill Mann and importation of African Green Monkeys, “(In Hilleman's view the AIDS virus reached North America via these African monkeys.),” unlike all the crazy urban legends about how AIDS made its way to America. Other than that parenthetical line out of 300 pages worth of text, the ordeal is not mentioned again. Perhaps the reason is because Shorter’s book was meant to be complementary to the documentary.
In sharp contrast to Shorter’s book, however, the documentary “The Health Century” edited the AIDS fiasco out completely. The New York Times review made it obvious as to why, saying it “celebrates the 100th anniversary of the NIH.” Naturally, the importation of the AIDS pandemic to the developed world was nothing to celebrate. The film was a 4-part series produced by the Blackwell Corporation, the first of which focused on infectious diseases and the initial founding of the NIH.
The sponsors, or rather, Blackwell’s “partners in discovery,” for making the entire documentary included American Home Products (now Wyeth), SmithKline Beckman and Burroughs Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline), Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and of course Merck, not to mention Schering-Plough, which just recently became a subsidiary of Merck. Perhaps the NIH’s conflict of interest can be summed up by the fact that their celebratory centennial documentary is almost entirely funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The film was little more than a propaganda video for the industry, crediting the increase of life expectancy and mass reduction in infectious diseases almost entirely to antibiotics and vaccines. Other industry-friendly lines such as the discovery that fluoride prevents tooth-decay were mentioned, never mind that fluoride is also neurotoxic.
The first doctor featured was Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. This is the same Anthony Fauci who is today quoted as saying, “If we can show that individuals of a certain genetic profile have a greater propensity for developing adverse events, we may want to screen everyone prior to vaccination (for) undetectable diseases like a subclinical mitochondrial disorder.” In the 22-year old documentary, he is represented as spearheading the United States government’s research on AIDS, the end-result being the hope that it would lead to a vaccine. Despite the overwhelmingly positive outlook from the perspective of the documentary on developing an AIDS vaccine at the time, Fauci admitted, “Developing a vaccine for AIDS is like telling a tall man to grow shorter.”
The documentary states that the first vaccines were for diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever. According to Hilleman in the censored interview, “Yellow Fever Vaccine had leukemia virus in it.” Then came the discussion about the polio vaccines by Jonus Salk and Albert Sabin, and the subsequently alleged “conquering” of polio. The documentary spent a great deal of time on this topic, comparing it to contemporary efforts to create an AIDS vaccine. There was no mention of the SV40 cancer virus that contaminated the polio vaccines. Instead, there was the mention of Albert Sabin’s famous field trial on 100 million people, most notably in the USSR, which the documentary said defeated polio forever.
The censored interview gave a different story. Hilleman said immunologists joked at the time that Sabin’s trial would win the U.S. the Olympics, “because the Russians would all be loaded down with tumors.” He admitted they released no public statement warning people because, “This was a scientific affair for the scientific community.” The CDC stance on SV40 cancer virus is a sort of Orwellian double speak, that although SV40 has been found in the tumors of human cancer victims, it does not prove that SV40 causes cancer in humans.
This reminded me of a recorded exchange I listened to between Andrew Wakefield and IOM panelist Kathleen Stratton, in which Stratton said the findings of vaccine-strain measles in the guts of autistic children with bowel-disease did not prove that the MMR causes autism or bowel disease. This exchange did nothing to reverse the panel’s decision to reject an association, and instead advocated for a diversion of research funds. Needless to say, Wakefield destroyed her credibility. Unfortunately, all that mattered in the end was that she was in a position to make an influential decision and Wakefield was not.
Then came the interview with Hilleman touting the wonders of the MMR. This included his “bargain basement” quote about vaccines, but almost everything else was censored. Instead of his interview where he talks about bringing AIDS virus to the country and about SV40 cancer virus contaminating Sabin’s vaccine, which according to Hilleman was “made at Merck even before I got there,” there was a brief mention of how terrible measles, mumps and rubella were. Hilleman credited their eradication to his “single-combined vaccine,” saying mumps caused “severe disabilities” and measles caused “permanent brain-damage.” Now don’t those sound familiar?
If the documentary censored history, Paul Offit sought to rewrite it. In his book, he wrote that the human blood from gay men and drug abusers in New York City that Hilleman used to develop his Hepatitis B vaccine were what probably contained AIDS virus. (Decades later, a pediatric version of Hep B containing thimerosal would be recommended for infants, starting on their date of birth). Hilleman, however, took responsibility for importing AIDS to the US. Offit does mention the exchange between Hilleman and Bill Mann, but makes no mention of the subsequent importation of AIDS that resulted according to Hilleman. Although the YouTube with the recording of Hilleman’s voice saying he brought AIDS to the US had probably not been uploaded yet by the time “Vaccinated” was published, Shorter’s book saying that Hilleman thought that he imported AIDS virus when shipping the Greens to America as advised by Mann had been available for two decades. Whether deliberately or unintentionally, Paul Offit completely overlooked this critical information. Furthermore, he contended that all the AIDS viruses in all the Hep B vaccines were completely inactivated, referencing a CDC report to support his contention. However, that report completely leaves out the clinical trial for the Hep B vaccine in New York that Offit describes in his own book. According to Alan Cantwell, the dermatologist whom Paul Offit challenged on this theory, 20% of that trial’s participants became HIV-positive. Why did the CDC ignore this population? Most striking of all was how Paul Offit had misrepresented the words of the very man he had come to worship: Maurice Hilleman.
Not surprisingly, Paul Offit is no better at accurately reporting the probable origin of AIDS in the human population than he is on describing the importation of the virus to America. In Africa, the first oral polio vaccine was tested on hundreds of thousands of people, known as the “CHAT” vaccine invented by Polish immunologist Hillary Kropowski. He and his assistant, Stanley Plotkin, conducted the massive trial for the CHAT vaccine. Decades later, those areas became the first places in Africa ravaged by AIDS, bringing huge controversy to the CHAT vaccine trial. Journalist Edward Hooper, reporting at the time, said that the virus did not spare anybody: men, women, or children.
Years later, when Hooper theorized the role the CHAT vaccine played in spreading AIDS to Africans, he had the support of the brilliant evolutionary biologist W.D. Hamilton, but Hamilton died of Malaria in early 2000. Months later, the infamous Royal Society meeting was held where Offit contended that Hooper’s theory was “discredited on stage” after vials of polio vaccine tested negative for AIDS or any related viruses, but those vials never came anywhere close to Africa. According to Edward Hooper, the vaccines for the CHAT trial were prepared on-site in Africa. Why weren’t any of those vaccines tested? Like the 2004 IOM Report on thimeorsal and the MMR, and the CDC Report on the Hep B vaccine, the Royal Society Meeting seems like just another kangaroo court posing as an unbiased investigation of the controversy when its actual intent was to kill the controversy.
Offit then puts forth the more “credible” theory, that AIDS spread to humans via a hunter who mixed his blood with a primate carrier, probably by cutting himself or being bit. That hunter, presumably, would have somehow brought AIDS to the industrialized world through New York City’s gay population, and had been promiscuous enough to instantly cause a worldwide pandemic, infecting 66 million people total by 2008 according to a UN Report.
Perhaps worst of all has been the nonexistent coverage of this controversy surrounding AIDS by the media. Even though the origin of AIDS in America, according to Hilleman himself, was that he brought it here in the Greens, no major newspaper or media outlet has touched this. Seeing Gardiner Harris and Anahad O’Conner’s promotion of Danish fraud in “On Autism’s Cause: It’s Parents vs. Research,” for example, this is hardly surprising. Harris is the same journalist to author a more recent article critical of the off-label use of Risperdal in children with ADD, but which had nothing to say about the effects it could have on others, including autistic children. Apparently, it is acceptable for them to suffer neurological side effects, and even add to the 31 reported deaths. The media seems so dependent on drug companies that it will sacrifice objectivity for dirty money, as is common practice in mainstream media.
Elitism also plays a role in the public’s ignorance of AIDS and cancer-related topics. The sources deemed reputable such as “The Health Century” are the very sources sponsored not just by one pharmaceutical company but the pharmaceutical industry. Although the AIDS fiasco was written about in Shorter’s book, it was only mentioned in one line in 300 pages worth of text, and served as complementary to the pure industry propaganda documentary version. The book did go more in-depth on the SV40 debacle, completely left out of the documentary, too, but didn’t say the virus caused cancer in humans, despite being found in human cancer tumors. Shorter’s book also stated that SV40 virus was only found in recipients of the Salk vaccine, despite the fact that it was also found in people who had received oral polio vaccines.
Then came the issue of timing: the video, disclosing the actual recording for the first time, was posted on YouTube decades later. By then, the public’s perspective on vaccines had remained unchanged since the 1950s, and AIDS had not hit headline news for two decades. The public was led to believe that vaccines annihilated polio, but not everyone knew the full story - that those same vaccines lauded as preventing viruses that cause polio, may have contained viruses that caused cancer and AIDS. Changing the public’s 50-year old perspective on vaccines would be very difficult, especially since earlier controversies over SV40 and cancer had been stifled, and peak AIDS coverage in the news had long since passed.
Meanwhile, drug companies have found a way to capitalize on this tragedy with the manufacture and sale of anti-retroviral drugs for AIDS. Burroughs Wellcome pioneered this field with the development of the original protease inhibitor to fight AIDS, AZT. In “The Health Century,” a doctor can be seen advising a patient with AIDS to take AZT. The patient was skeptical, and the doctor hesitant to risk making the patient unhealthier by prescribing it, but ended up recommending AZT anyway. Merck has been quick to profit from the AIDS epidemic as well. It patented and sells anti-retroviral Indinavir, marketed under the brand name Crixivan.
Where the stakes are the highest, however, are with the development of an AIDS vaccine, a commitment heavily undertaken by Merck. Though it hasn’t been accomplished yet, a vaccination for AIDS would be a financial and publicity treasure-trove. The vaccine would reap both tremendous profit, and make the public less willing to critically examine if their beloved vaccines were also the very mode of transportation for AIDS virus into the human population and industrialized world in the first place. There is an entire multi-billion-dollar industry devoted to discovering the hypothetical AIDS vaccine alone. Amusingly, a government official in the 1987 documentary said “The American people will not tolerate waiting until the mid-90s for an AIDS vaccine.” And yet, 22 years later, one has still not been developed.
While Hilleman have died in 2005, his recorded words live on. He took no issue with saying he was responsible for bringing AIDS to the country, citing “crude science” as an excuse, even going as far to say that it was “good science at the time.” This good science presumably killed over half a million people in the US according to international AIDS charity, AVERT, and probably millions more in other industrialized countries from subsequent spreading of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, AIDS has killed an estimated 33 million people worldwide and counting.
No wonder, as Paul Offit lamented, few had known whom Maurice Hilleman was. He may have invented more vaccines than anyone else in medical history, but was not quiet on other, less positive matters. Albert Sabin would never say in a recorded interview that his clinical trial in the USSR caused “the Russians” to “be loaded down with tumors.” In “Vaccinated,” Offit said Merck wanted to keep Hilleman quiet towards the end of his life on the subject of SV40 due to pending litigation, though not soon enough.
Even though Paul Offit, Merck’s biggest spokesman for vaccines, says he regrets the lack of publicity given to Hilleman, he never attempts to explain why Hilleman’s reputation has been kept under wraps. Perhaps what Offit really wished was for Hilleman to act like more of a company show-poodle than an honest scientist. That way, Merck would have a PR advantage, and brag about how the man who invented more vaccines than anyone else works for the company. Hilleman could have become another poster-child for the miracles of vaccines, becoming as famous as Salk, but that would be too risky.
Of course, Hilleman would be even better known if his interview with Shorter had not been censored. If Hilleman for even a moment said he brought AIDS to the US during an interview that was the equivalent of Jonus Salk’s appearance on Edward R. Murrow’s TV show, his fame would quickly turn to infamy, and his company’s image would come crashing down in pieces. So Merck, one of Blackwell’s “partners in discovery,” cut most of the Hilleman interview out of “The Health Century,” despite the fact he invented more vaccines than anyone else.
Such editing is metaphorically connected to the overall public perception of the vaccine industry, shaped by stifling controversies, rigging public reports, turning the media watchdog on consumer advocacy groups through ad money temptations. Perhaps these are also motives for shunning any kind of a link between autism and childhood vaccines, because an autism-vaccine connection would spark a greater public interest in reexamining previous history. It is difficult to fathom the pharmaceutical industry, much less the vaccine industry, recovering its reputation if vaccines were then found to have caused cancer and AIDS. No amount of industry lobbying would be able to turn back the clock to the 50-year old drug-industry-induced stupor that served as the premise for the infectious disease segment of “The Health Century.” The ending summed up contemporary views of vaccine industry and government scientists as “modern microbe-hunters,” who were “scientific descendents of Galileo and Pasteur.” They are, as the documentary put it, “in search of something called ‘the truth,” unless it is left on the editing-room floor.
Jake Crosby is a history student with Asperger Syndrome at Brandeis University, and a Contributing Editor of Age of Autism.