The door to Soulville, which is what we called our collectively rented hooch, was open and it was early afternoon. Rain softened daylight streaming in.
He had been loath to discuss it with me in interview - and even at one stage between our two interviews in had threatened not to discuss that particular aspect of his work with me at all.
I was aware that in those two interviews I had been exposed to a combination of Koprowski's charm and chutzpah, but in the end I decided to refrain from making any final judgement in the book itself.
This was despite the fact that roughly half of the interviewees who had expressed an opinion about Koprowski had been extremely scathing about him. He was generally acknowledged to be an excellent experimental thinker - "a man of many ideas" - even if several observers accused him of sloppy scientific work.
However, the most commonly expressed reservation related to his integrity - he was said to be manipulative and unprincipled, and several of his scientific peers stated that he was not to be trusted. Some of these detrimental opinions about him featured in The River, though I also included several expressions of praise from Koprowski's supporters, and those who feel confident about the value of his work.
In recent years, however, there has no longer been any doubt in my mind.
Almost every statement that Koprowski has made about his African polio vaccine research in recent times has been provably untrue. Among the many fallacious claims he has made are the following: That the Ruzizi Valley trial, involvingAfricans, took place in response to a polio epidemic.
In reality, it was the first large-scale open trial of an oral polio vaccine, OPV, anywhere in the world, and there was very little in the way of active follow-up, to see if vaccinees developed immunity to polio. The main reason for the trial was to prove, logistically, that mass-administration of an OPV could be done.
That Koprowski's first visit to the Congo, inoccurred by accident, as a result of either a a mechanical breakdown of his plane, or b a strike by Sabena staff. That the first person to visit Stanleyville to check out the facilities at the medical laboratory was his assistant, Tom Norton, who visited on his own for about one month in Tom Norton visited Stanleyville indeed, Africa only the once, and that was when he accompanied Koprowski there in However, Koprowski claimed in interview with me that Norton visited Stanleyville "seven or eight times".
However, in interview with me inKoprowski said the precise opposite. He was at pains to emphasise that his polio vaccine was a living vaccine, and that any competent virologist could therefore have grown up a fresh batch in a primate tissue culture of his or her own choosing. He even wrongly accused George Dick of having regrown his [Koprowski's] polio vaccine in Belfast inin his attempt to explain why that vaccine had performed so poorly.
Koprowski went on to say that production of his vaccines had been going on in Belgium, Switzerland and South Africa, and he implied that exactly the same thing could have happened in the Belgian Congo.
The original vaccine, I think, was prepared by the Wistar Institute Subsequent vaccines were prepared partially by Wistar, partially by RIT, a Belgian firm, which was supplied the seed-lots and was preparing vaccines.
These vaccines were put in hands, I presume, of virus medical officers of [the Congo's] provinces The very kindest interpretation that can be placed on these repeated misrepresentations and untruths is that Koprowski is nowadays emotionally unable to contemplate the possibility that trials of one his vaccines in Africa may have sparked the worst public health disaster of all time.
This interpretation would assume that he is now a man in complete denial. What must be pointed out, however, is that in every instance the misleading account which Koprowski now broadcasts is one which seeks to minimise his own involvement in the process.
There is method, therefore, in his misrepresentation. What is also interesting is the changing sub-text.
Inin the same year that he thrice reported in the medical literature that he was growing his polio vaccines in a final substrate of chick embryo when he was in fact using a substrate of primate kidneyKoprowski wrote that the substrate used to grow the polio vaccine "cannot be disregarded altogether".
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