September 28, 2000
Because I was the co-developer (with John F. Enders, Nobel laureate) of measles vaccine, I have been the recipient over the past 10 days of numerous phone calls and e-mails regarding the Yanomami and Patrick Tierney's accusations (Darkness in El Dorado). I am neither an anthropologist nor a geneticist. I am a pediatrician-vaccinologist who has spent the past 44 years in studies of various vaccines, especially measles.
Among the materials sent me is a memo (undated) from Terry Turner and Leslie Sponsel to Louise Lamphere and Don Brenneis. Their comments regarding Neel's use of measles vaccine are totally incorrect. Edmonston B vaccine which Neel administered at a time when an epidemic of measles was already underway (Amer J Epidemiology, 1970, 91:418-429, Neel et al) was a scientifically established and proven method of attempting to interrupt an outbreak. Nearly 19 million infants and children between 1963 and 1975 in the US and internationally received this licensed (by FDA) vaccine with or without immune globulin. Vaccine virus has never been transmitted to susceptible contacts and cannot cause measles even in intimate contacts. Drs. Turner's and Sponsel's memo indulges in hyperbole as well as errors ("virulent vaccine", "counterindicated by medical experts", "greatly exacerbated and probably started the epidemic of measles", etc.). Who are the unnamed "medical experts" they cite?
Once again, I cannot comment on Neel's style, goals or objectives, but the use of Edmonston B vaccine in an attempt to halt an epidemic was a justifiable, proven and valid approach. In no way could it initiate or exacerbate an epidemic. Continued circulation of these charges is not only unwarranted, but truly egregious.
Yours very truly,
Samuel L. Katz, MD Wilburt C. Davison Professor & Chairman Emeritus Department of Pediatrics
Click here for a web page were Dr. Katz describes his credentials in testimony before the US Congress
This is an earlier email from Dr. Samuel Katz, a co-developer of the measles vaccine, to Dr. Bill Oliver, a member of the Neel team involved in the 1968 epidemic. It was written after Dr. Katz had read a detailed journal article on the 1968 epidemic.
The journal article in question is a detailed account of the 1968 measles epidemic written by Neel, Chagnon, and others, and published in 1970. The details of the epidemic recounted in this article do not appear to differ from the supposed damning details outlined in the Turner/Sponsel email summary of Tierney's book, including in particular the use of Edmonston B measles vaccine both with and without gamma globulin in a population that had not previously been exposed to measles. It is quite likely that this article is one of Tierney's principle sources. Dr. Katz concludes his analysis of the Neel et al. article (and probable Tierney source) with the following:
"In summary measles vaccine viruses (Edmonston B, Moraten, Edmonston Zagreb, and any other descendents of Edmonston) have never been shown to be transmissible from a vaccine recipient to a susceptible contact. Except for the rare instances noted above they have not been responsible for deaths despite the administration of hundreds of millions of doses throughout the world."
In other words, there is no scientific basis to the claim that Neel et al. either caused or greatly exacerbated the 1968 epidemic.
The Katz emails in full:
September 24, 2000
Dear Professor Chagnon, Because I was at meetings in Washington DC I did not read your e-mail of 22 September until late this evening on arrival at home. (I don't travel with my laptop as many people do.) Certainly you may feel free to post my letter to Bill Oliver in any place or fashion where you feel it may be helpful in aborting the posthumous assasination of Jim Neel. Although I never knew him personally, I was familiar with some of his pioneering studies in genetics and hold him in great respect. Good luck! SL Katz
September 15, 2000
Bill: I was able to locate James Neel's paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology (1970; 91: 418-429). Not having previously read it, I found it very interesting. The reported results are not unexpected. He obviously was trying to abort a measles epidemic already in progress by administration of vaccine. A number of comments are due.
First of all, he was using two different Edmonston B vaccines, one grown in chick embryo cell cultures, the other in canine renal cell cultures. The latter was later abandoned as it was more reactogenic than the chick cell material, but it was licensed by FDA.
A number of studies had shown and have subsequently been reaffirmed that if vaccine is administered within 72 hours of exposure, one can obtain a vaccine response and abort the wild virus illness. Thus he was undoubtedly dealing with a mixture of natural measles and vaccine-induced responses. In the absence of virus isolations and (then unavailable) genomic characterization it would be difficult to segregate the two.
"We" and other investigators had studied previously the responses to Edmonston B vaccine in children in developed nations as well as those in developing lands (Haute Volta--now Burkina Faso, Nigeria, among others) in infants and children with malnutrition, protein depletion, malaria and other underlying problems. Several results were consistently observed: the children responded with excellent antibody levels (often greater than their more fortunate contemporaries in developed nations), although they had febrile responses they remained well and active, there was never any transmission of vaccine virus to susceptible contacts who were controls receiving placebos. Despite every attempt to domonstrate communicability of the vaccine virus, it has never occurred in any populations of the many studied.
Although there was the morbidity described with Edmonston B vaccine (especially when used without gamma globulin)--fever, occasional URI symptoms, evanescent rash--there were never any severe complications such as those observed with natural measles (especially bronchopneumonia, gastroenteritis, croup, otitis media, encephalitis, etc.).
Despite the administration of millions of doses of vaccine to children throughout the world, the only deaths known to have occurred were in several youngsters who were under intense therapy for their leukemias and more recently a young adult with AIDS. These patients developed the giant cell pneumonia that has been seen with natural measles.
In summary measles vaccine viruses (Edmonston B, Moraten, Edmonston Zagreb,and any other descendents of Edmonston) have never been shown to be transmissible from a vaccine recipient to a susceptible contact. Except for the rare instances noted above they have not been responsible for deaths despite the administration of hundreds of millions of doses throughout the world. Before the availability of vaccine, WHO estimates there were 6 million measles deaths annually among infants and children. WHO's estimate for 1999 with increasingly widespread use of vaccine globally was 800,000 deaths. After the successful elimination of polio, measles is next on WHO's agenda for attempted eradication.
In hopes these lengthy comments assist you in your current endeavors, and please feel free to contact me if there are further questions--Cheers, Sam