Dr Bertram McCloskey
Another, Australian, gives details of 340 cases of polio, 211 of which had been previously vaccinated against whooping cough and/or diphtheria. Of these, 35 had been vaccinated within the preceding 3 months and a further 30 within the previous year ( B.P. McClosky, "The Relation of Prophylactic Inoculation to the Onset of Poliomyelitis," Lancet, April 18, 659-663. 1950?).
Suffer the little children The revelatory research, as it happens, was
done by Dr Bertram McCloskey, the Victorian Health Department's polio officer,
who actually treated me in Ballarat. His report in The Lancet makes
disturbing reading, even today. McCloskey reports that 375 cases of polio were
notified in Victoria between January and August 1949, and of the 340 cases
investigated, 211 of these had ''a history of previous immunisation against
whooping cough and/or diphtheria''. This showed, he wrote, that there was
''considerable evidence that a correlation between inoculation and poliomyelitis
infection existed in this epidemic''.
He said the more recent the injection, the more likely was its association with the onset of polio. ''The data revealed that the last injection before the onset of symptoms was that usually associated with the location of paralysis.'' In 17 cases of children under the age of three, he found there was considerable evidence to confirm that the paralysis was more severe in the last inoculated limbs of these children. I was 10 at the time, but that was certainly true in my case.
...The journal said McCloskey discussed his findings with Professor F. M. Burnet (later Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet) and Dr E.V. Keogh, of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, and with Dr H. McLorinan, superintendent of the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Fairfield. They agreed there was some link between the injections and polio and ''this raised questions of great importance from the viewpoint of public-health administration''.
What happened next astounds me. McCloskey also wrote that ''it was feared that immunisation, particularly against diphtheria, might be prejudiced if the public were informed''. This meeting of medical minds seems to have considered keeping this crucial evidence from the public. The chief health officer put the committee's opinion to Victoria's Consultative Council on Poliomyelitis for an opinion ''on whether or not the medical profession and the public should be informed''. The council recommended advising doctors to discontinue using whooping cough vaccine during the polio epidemic and to inform the public, but action on diphtheria immunisation was thought to be unnecessary because ''the evidence was less certain''.
The Lancet said a ''brief statement'' was issued to the press. Unbelievably, McCloskey wrote: ''The announcement caused no unfavourable press comment so there is no reason to suppose that the future of immunisation in Victoria has been prejudiced.'' Presumably the ''brief statement'' downplayed the seriousness of McCloskey's findings.
The Australian findings prompted a study by the New York City Department of Health, but doctors in the US claimed the study was not extensive enough. Nonetheless, the American Medical Association journal in an editorial advised that ''postponement of such immunisations for a few months until the end of the epidemic would appear particularly discreet''. That certainly didn't happen in Australia. I'm living proof of that.