MEDICINE & MEDIA: Polio Vaccine Cancer Scare Overstated
In the latest example of sensationalism in media coverage of medical issues, a cancer researcher yesterday said widespread news reports overstated the link between polio vaccines containing a monkey virus and hundreds of cancer deaths. "It is going one step further than I am prepared to go," said Dr. Janet Butel, head of molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, whose study was first profiled Wednesday in the London Telegraph. Though Salk polio vaccines have been found to contain the monkey virus SV40, which has been associated with a certain type of lung cancer, Butel said, "There is no elevated risk for those who had the vaccine." She said many people with SV40-related tumors never received the Salk vaccine, prompting calls for further research to determine precisely how the virus is transmitted (Zuiga, Houston Chronicle, 2/18). The Telegraph had reported that "mass vaccination campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s may be causing hundreds of deaths a year because of a cancer-causing virus that contaminated the first polio vaccine" (Price, Washington Times, 2/19)This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.