Some of the polio vaccine administered from 1955–1963 was contaminated with a virus, called simian virus 40 (SV40). The virus came from the monkey kidney cell cultures used to produce the vaccine. Most, but not all, of the contamination was in the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). Once the contamination was recognized, steps were taken to eliminate it from future vaccines. Researchers have long wondered about the effects of the contaminated vaccine on people who received it. Although SV40 has biological properties consistent with a cancer-causing virus, it has not been conclusively established whether it might have caused cancer in humans. Studies of groups of people who received polio vaccine during 1955–1963 provide evidence of no increased cancer risk. However, because these epidemiologic studies are sufficiently flawed, the Institute of Medicine's Immunization Safety Review Committee concluded that the evidence was inadequate to conclude whether or not the contaminated polio vaccine caused cancer. In light of the biological evidence supporting the theory that SV40-contamination of polio vaccines could contribute to human cancers, the committee recommends continued public health attention in the form of policy analysis, communication, and targeted biological research.
Copyright 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.