Married Jim Schumacher (a lawyer and writer); children: one daughter.
Journalist, 1979—. Reporter for Vermont newspapers, including Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 1980s, and Burlington Free Press.
(With husband, Jim Schumacher) The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Nation, Utne Reader, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Boston Globe.
Debbie Bookchin and her husband Jim Schumacher wrote The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, which is based on an article originally published in the Atlantic Monthly. The coauthors document that from 1954 to 1963, nearly every dose of polio vaccine produced worldwide—the recipients which included 98 million Americans—was contaminated with a cancer-causing virus from the kidneys of the rhesus monkeys used to create the vaccine. While the Nobel Prize-winning scientists who first developed the vaccine used human tissue, Jonas Salk chose to grind up rhesus macaque monkey kidneys to be used as polio virus vaccine factories.
As Tom Curtis wrote in the Lancet, "Salk's shots were declared safe and effective after 1954 field trials. The next year, after grudging approval by skeptical government regulators, free Salk shots were made available throughout the United States. By 1960, scientists and manufacturers knew that monkey kidneys were sewers of simian viruses." National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientist Bernice Eddy found that injections of monkey cell extracts caused cancer in lab animals, but after she presented her findings to her superior and her other colleagues, Eddy was removed from her duties and the laboratory. Other scientists followed up and identified the carcinogenic simian virus 40, or SV40. Beginning in 1963, African green monkeys, which are not natural hosts of SV40, were purportedly used to produce all vaccines.
During the 1990s, NIH scientist Michael Carbone was studying how SV40 causes cancers, one of which was mesothelioma, a rare cancer thought occur only in people exposed to asbestos. Going forward based on published studies, Carbone tested human mesothelioma tumor biopsies at the National Cancer Institute and found that sixty percent contained SV40 DNA. In most of these cancers, the live monkey virus was still active and producing proteins. The safer technology used by vaccine manufacturers in Canada and Europe in the 1970s and 1980s was not adopted in the United States until 2000. Carbone published his findings, but the NIH would not publicize them and essentially came up with their own findings that there was no link between cancers and the polio vaccine. In 1998, the National Cancer Institute reported that Americans who were given the contaminated polio vaccine during the 1950s do not have a higher incidence of cancers. Carbone moved on to Loyola University and continued his work. His findings were replicated in similar studies in the United States, Germany, and Italy.
The authors write that from 1997 to 2003, more than twenty-five published studies found SV40 in human mesotheliomas. Another sixteen studies found the virus in bone and brain cancers, lymphomas, and cancers in the kidneys and peripheral blood. In total, nearly 100 studies and a third as many scientific reviews were published associating SV40 with cancer. As of 2003, SV40 had been found in human tumors in eighteen countries, the occurrence highest in those that used the greatest volume of contaminated polio vaccine, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Italy. The authors note that mesothelioma, which was a rare occurrence before 1950, now strikes between 2,000 and 3,000 Americans each year, and brain tumors and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma now strike more than 60,000 Americans every year.
But one of the most disturbing findings is that children born decades after the vaccine was supposedly made safe have been discovered to have tumors that contain SV40. On their Web site, the authors refer to the case of Alexander Horwin, who died in 1999 at the age of two from a brain tumor that contained SV40. They write that "scientists are trying to determine whether the virus could now be spreading from human to human, much as scientists feared could happen with the bird flu in a worst-case scenario, or if it got into the tumors of children because the vaccine, which was produced using monkey kidney materials right through 1999, may have at times still been contaminated after 1963, even though it was supposed to have been screened out by then." In a review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mark Pendergrast called TheVirus and the Vaccine "a cautionary tale that should find a wide readership." Pendergrast also felt that the book "raises important issues, not only about SV40, but about how science can be affected by politics and ego."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 20, 2004, Mark Pendergrast, review of The Virus and the Vaccine: The True Story of a Cancer-causing Monkey Virus, Contaminated Polio Vaccine, and the Millions of Americans Exposed, p. L5.
Booklist, April 1, 2004, Donna Chavez, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. 1339.
Lancet, July 31, 2004, Tom Curtis, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. 407.
Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Eris Weaver, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. 114.
Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week, June 19, 2004, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. 981.
Publishers Weekly, March 22, 2004, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. 79.
Washington Post Book World, July 25, 2004, Sally Squires, review of The Virus and the Vaccine, p. T8.
Virus and the Vaccine Web site,http://www.thevirusandthevaccine.com (October 16, 2004).*