The Virus and the Vaccine Contaminated Vaccine, Deadly Cancers, and Government Neglect

Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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Jonas Salk's polio vaccine is regarded as a veritable medical miracle, for it largely eradicated one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. But the story of the vaccine has a dark side, one that has never been fully told before. Between 1954 and 1963, close to 98 million Americans received polio vaccinations contaminated with a carcinogenic monkey virus, now known as SV40. The government downplayed the incident, and it was generally accepted that although oncogenic to lab animals, SV40 was harmless to humans. But now SV40 is showing up in human cancers, and prominent researchers are demanding a serious public health response to this forgotten polio vaccine contaminant. A gripping medical detective story, The Virus and the Vaccine raises major questions about vaccine policy.

The article on which this book is based was originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 2000 and earned a selection in the book Best Science Writing 2001.


Praise for The Virus and the Vaccine

"This well-researched, well-documented book unfurls a compelling scientific saga . . . Not only that, it's written with the zing of a medical thriller, featuring fully realized characters, dramatic conflicts, high-level politics and scientific egos big enough to levitate Stone Mountain."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Powerful and emotive, the book captures the joy of scientific discovery—from the dramatic fight against polio to the thrill of basic virology—with the tone of a mystery thriller."—Dr. Norman J. Maitland, professor of molecular biology, director of the YCR Cancer Research Unit, University of York

"A beautifully-told tale of science and a fascinating piece of medical history. The Virus and the Vaccine reveals how science can be distorted, pushed and pulled by the pressures of politics and profits."—Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School

"Millions of Americans are unaware that government officials and leading scientists played Russian roulette with their health in the 1960s . . . [This] fascinating, meticulously-researched account of the coverup, and its possible long-term health effects, is a deeply disturbing chapter in the recent history of science."—Stephen S. Hall, New York Times Magazine science writer and author of Merchants of Immortality

"This meticulously researched, levelheaded and well-written book should stir up considerable debate. Because the authors never became alarmist, this solid work of investigative reporting carries considerable weight, and deserves to be read by a large audience."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher

  • Debbie Bookchin has been a journalist since 1979 and has won awards for her news, feature, and investigative reporting. She has written for The Boston Globe, The Nation, The New York Times, and numerous other publications.

    Jim Schumacher is a lawyer and writer whose work has appeared in Boston Magazine, Newsday, and The Atlantic Monthly, among others. Bookchin and Schumacher are married to each other and live in Vermont with their daughter.