Aidsorigins.com mentioned in a post that:

The oral polio vaccine (OPV) theory of origin of AIDS proposes that an experimental OPV made in a unique manner was administered to nearly one million Africans in the 1957-1960 period, leading to the infection of perhaps 10 to 500 people from the former Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi with the pandemic strain of HIV-1, thus initiating the AIDS pandemic.

This hypothesis was notable enough to be represented at a Royal Society symposium on AIDS origins in September 2000.

Is this hypothesis supportable by scientific evidence?


2 Answers 2


Different theories have emerged to hypothesize about origins for the human immunodeficiency infection (HIV) and (AIDS), with theories emerging from coincidental acts to evidently intentional acts.

The Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) theory is one of those theories.

Edward Hooper, is a British writer best known for his book, The River, which investigated the origins of AIDS and made a case for the OPV AIDS hypothesis, which states that the AIDS virus was accidentally created by scientists testing an experimental polio vaccine (OPV).

Source: Edward Hooper, The River, Little Brown and Company, 1999, ISBN 0-316-37261-7.

His theory speculated that early bunches of the oral polio antibody (OPV) developed in societies of chimpanzee kidney cells, tainted with a chimpanzee infection, were the first wellspring of HIV-1 in Central Africa.

Here are the studies:

Chimpanzee's DNA not found

Scientists have analyzed five samples of OPV in storage at the Wistar Institute, including one from a batch used in the Belgian Congo between 1958 and 1960, they didn't find any chimpanzee's DNA.

Source: The Lancet. Volume 357, No. 9265, p1343, 28 April 2001

Mechanism of transmission seems highly unlikely

A third possibility is that multiple strains of SIV were transmitted from chimpanzees to humans at about the same time in the 1940s or 1950s (Parallel Late Transmission hypothesis). It has been suggested that parallel transmission could have occurred through contamination of poliovirus vaccines with multiple SIVs. Poliovirus was cultured in chimpanzee kidney cells and oral polio vaccines were administered in Central Africa between 1957 and 1960 (7). However, this mechanism of transmission seems highly unlikely given the small number of chimpanzee kidneys used for preparing oral polio vaccines, the rarity of SIV infections in chimpanzee populations, and the lack of known strains of SIVcpz (the SIV strain that infects chimpanzees) in the cluster of M-group viruses.

Source: Hillis DM (2000). "AIDS. Origins of HIV". Science 288 (5472): 1757–9. doi:10.1126/science.288.5472.1757.

Dispelling one proposed route of transmission

Now, results of PCR analyses presented to a packed auditorium at London's Royal Society on 12 September should clarify the ‘how’ by dispelling one proposed route of transmission—that HIV-1 entered the human population inadvertently in the late 1950s through trials of an oral polio vaccine (OPV) grown in chimpanzee kidney cells contaminated with SIV.

Source: Birmingham K (2000). "Results make a monkey of OPV-AIDS theory". Nat Med 6 (10): 1067.

Circulating virus is phylogenetically distinct from all strains of HIV-1

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, speculation continues that the AIDS virus, human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), may have crossed into humans as a result of contamination of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). This 'OPV/AIDS theory' claims that chimpanzees from the vicinity of Stanleyville--now Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo--were the source of a simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVcpz) that was transmitted to humans when chimpanzee tissues were allegedly used in the preparation of OPV. Here we show that SIVcpz is indeed endemic in wild chimpanzees of this region but that the circulating virus is phylogenetically distinct from all strains of HIV-1, providing direct evidence that these chimpanzees were not the source of the human AIDS pandemic.

Source: Worobey M, Santiago M, Keele B, Ndjango J, Joy J, Labama B, Dhed'A B, Rambaut A, Sharp P, Shaw G, Hahn B (2004). "Origin of AIDS: contaminated polio vaccine theory refuted". Nature 428 (6985): 820

Death sentence for the OPV theory (Coffin was prepared also):

At an unusual Royal Society meeting in London last September, a controversial theory that a contaminated polio vaccine triggered the AIDS epidemic was all but PRONOUNCED DEAD. Now, a paper in this issue (see p. 743) and three more in this week's issue of Nature collectively nail the lid on the COFFIN OF THE THEORY.

Source: Cohen J (2001). "AIDS origins. Disputed AIDS theory dies its final death". Science 292 (5517): 615

  • @topomorto what George is doing here, is presenting evidence that there is a scientific consensus that this theory is false. Scientific consensus means: evidential and theoretical support, majority agreement and multiple unrelated avenues of experiment concurring. Such a consensus is not normally moved by a single experiment, opinion or "logical" argument, no matter how loud :-)
    – Sklivvz
    May 3, 2015 at 9:20
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    Scientific consensus is built upon a foundation of logic and systematic evidence - the scientific method - rather than dogma (or that which is taught in Sunday school) or popular prejudice. The consensus comes not from blindly agreeing with those in authority, but from having their claims to be thoroughly reviewed and criticised by their peers. (Note that even long-established scientific consensus can be overthrown by better logic and better evidence typically preceded by anomalous research findings.) src May 3, 2015 at 9:53
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    @Sklivvz, we can't respond to arguments of Hooper by even mentioning he's a writer not a scientist (Of course you're not saying that theory is wrong because of he's a writer); but mentioning his profession isn't constructive. Focus should be on the content of his arguments, regardless of his profession. I also think my answer presents both scientific evidence (Chimpanzee's DNA not found, Circulating virus is phylogenetically distinct from all strains of HIV-1, etc...) and ends with evidence of scientific consensus. I feel actually disturbed the OP isn't convinced. May 3, 2015 at 10:42
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    It seems you keep on misreading what I state. Fact: he is a writer and not a scientist; fact: his theories have been disproven by experiments; fact: he hasn't let go in the face of contrary evidence; fact: this behavior is not scientifically sound. Any of these points are factual, are not dismissive of him, and stand singularly. None of them is an ad-hominem. The only opinion I've expressed is that his non-scientific behavior might be caused by his non-scientific profession of choice, which is also not an ad-hominem.
    – Sklivvz
    May 3, 2015 at 10:47
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    @Sklivvz, oh okay. I agree then. May 3, 2015 at 10:49

If we accept Ed Hooper's book "The River" (see Answer 1) as the statement of the OPV-AIDS hypothesis then the hypothesis included the possibility that the virus was introduced into the vaccine in Africa. Hooper has, after "The River", presented interviews, records of practices and journal articles that provide evidence that the vaccine was amplified in the city of Stanleyville, Belgian Congo (now Kisangi, Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa) using material from a heterogenous collection of chimp strains, that exist naturally in different geographical ranges, (https://www.uow.edu.au/~bmartin/dissent/documents/AIDS/Hooper04/Hooper04refuteb.html) that had been co-housed or caged to permit touching between cages. (See ""The Origins of AIDS" Documentary, 2003 and http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n07/edward-hooper/aids-and-the-polio-vaccine ) The heterogenous collection allows for multiple versions of SIV to be intermixed in the co-housed chimps. The method used for their slaughter was consistent with the use of chimp material in amplifying vaccine. A scientist involved said they used chimp material in the lab, a lab worker said they made vaccine material. None of this proves the OPV-AIDS hypothesis.

If however we posit a null hypothesis of "The CHAT vaccination program was caried out in a way that precluded SIV contamination" then we can have little confidence in the null hypothesis. To the extent that the scientific rejection of OPV-AIDS relies on the vaccine being uncontaminated by SIV that rejection is based on a challenged narrative.

There are other elements of the arguement against OPV-AIDS that do not rely on doubtful claims by the scientists involved in the CHAT vaccine trial. This scientific evidence, like all evidence, must be judged, weighted and interpretted. According to Hooper some scientists with long histories of biological research, such as Walter Nelson-Rees (http://www.aidsorigins.com/death-american-hero), find/found the scientific evidence fails/ed to convince them that OPV-AIDS is incorrect. Hooper goes further and interprets the findings of many of the "refuting" studies as supporting OPV-AIDS. (example http://www.aidsorigins.com/more-supportive-opvaids-bushmeat-hypothesis-revised-response-recent-faria-paper-science)

This being a skeptics area I finish off by referencing "Contested testimony in scientific disputes: the case of the origins of AIDS", "The Skeptic" Vol. 13, No. 3, 2007, pp. 52-58 by Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. This article is relevant as it goes some way to explaining why only one side of the argument is to be found in current science journals.

OP; in short there is scientific evidence that is interpretted by some as supporting OPV-AIDS.


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