Journal article Open Access

Cancer risk associated with receipt of vaccines contaminated with simian virus 40: Epidemiologic research

Engels, Eric A.

Simian virus (SV)40 was an accidental contaminant of poliovirus vaccines used widely in the USA and other countries in 1955-1962. Exposure to SV40 via contaminated vaccines has led to concern as SV40 causes cancer in laboratory animals. In addition, some laboratories, although not all, have detected SV40 DNA in human tumors including mesothelioma, certain brain tumors, osteosarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This article reviews the data regarding contamination of poliovirus vaccines with SV40 and summarizes the results from epidemiologic studies of vaccine recipients. Long-term follow-up studies have not revealed recipients of SV40-contaminated poliovirus vaccines to be at an increased risk for cancer. Thus, these studies are somewhat reassuring and indicate that either SV40 does not readily infect humans or, following infection, does not cause cancer. Recognizing that the history of SV40 contamination of vaccines highlights an inherent risk of contamination of vaccines with adventitious agents, the Institute of Medicine recently called for the development of a comprehensive US plan to prevent vaccine contamination and respond to potential contamination events when they arise.

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