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Government funded tetanus vaccines, Keynan Catholic Bishops and miscarriages. How are these things connected to one another?
When Catholic bishops in Kenya issued a press release last month questioning their government's internationally-funded tetanus vaccine campaign directed at women and girls and warned that it might be laced with an experimental contraceptive that makes them miscarry their babies, it was barely mentioned by the mainstream media outside of Kenya. The BBC carried a brief story that dismissed the allegations as "unfounded" and suggested that even raising such questions was dangerous as it could frighten people from a "safe and certified" lifesaving vaccine.
The few bloggers that gave the bishops any attention were mostly accusatory, like the "friendly atheist" who compared them to Muslim fundamentalists who had somehow got it into their paranoid heads that the West was trying to render them infertile.
"If beggars believe that these men think that one day they'll get high-fives from their Maker despite the death and suffering they willfully [sic] created," he concluded.
The larger Catholic church was silent and no human rights groups rushed to investigate the bishops' claims, so the whole controversy seemed to evaporate like smog – a backward, African version of a wacky vaccine conspiracy theory, with Catholic anti-birth control overtones. What could poor, black women have to fear from uber-rich white philanthropists and global organizations bearing health-giving pharmaceuticals after all?
BLACK BOX MEDICINE
Well, there is that niggling 60-year history of contraceptive testing on poor, mostly black women in developing countries. Practically every contraceptive ever marketed to Western women was first tried out on some unsuspecting and undereducated poor women, often without access to running water, let alone basic healthcare or a lawyer.
From the revolutionary first birth control pill, experimented on Haitian and Puerto Rican women in the 1950s (who suffered blood clots and strokes while the researchers adjusted the doses to make it saleable), through the now-shelved hormone-leaking Norplant rods inserted in the arms of Bangladeshi slum women in the early 1980s, some of whom, going blind or endlessly bleeding, were refused when they begged to have the things removed, to the women and girls in rural Ghana who were part of the "Navrongo Experiment" between 1994 and 2006 and, according to black activists, left conveniently unaware of the FDA's Black Box Warning about life-threatening potential side effects of the experimental Depo Provera contraceptive implant they were given as part of a "general health care" program. It seems that the poor women are always involved except when the pharmaceutical company is paying the lawsuit claims.
Or perhaps the Kenyan bishops were thinking of the nasty side population controllers sometimes shown when they're in Third World countries. There are nice population control people in places like India who will give men guns for vasectomies or women a chance to win a refrigerator or the world's cheapest car for surgical sterilization. But then there are the population control jihads, like the type that saw Indian men forcibly sterilized on railway platforms in the 1970s in the quest to defuse the "population bomb." They still oversee programs today where Indian women are dumped like chattel on the streets after surgical sterilization "mega camps" or left bleeding on straw mats after tubal ligations at a rate of two-per-minute, by flashlight.
Maybe the Kenyan bishops were thinking of the way US and international foreign aid and private foundation funding has steadily trickled into these countries in the billions, while these type of government-run programs that reduce birth rates are in full swing. But why would they ever suspect foreign-funded programs in Kenya? And why were they so concerned about the tetanus campaign?
"Is there a tetanus crisis in Kenya? If this is so, why has it not been declared?" the bishops asked, noting that the Catholic Church's 83 health centres, 311 dispensaries and 17 medical training centres that had not heard about it. Also, if "so many life threatening diseases [are] in Kenya, why has tetanus been prioritized?"
Fair enough questions. Then they got weird:
"We are not convinced that the government has taken adequate responsibility to ensure that Tetanus Toxoid vaccine (TT) laced with Beta human chorionic gonadotropin (b-HCG) sub unit is not being used by the sponsoring development partners. This has previously been used by the same partners in the Philippines, Nicaragua and Mexico to vaccinate women against future pregnancy. Beta HCG sub unit is a hormone necessary for pregnancy."
The notion of a contraceptive-laced vaccine sounds ridiculous to most Westerners. What are they talking about?
"The population growth and unintended pregnancies are major public health issues worldwide," begins this 2011 overview of contraceptive vaccines in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology. "Contraceptive vaccines (CV) have been proposed as valuable alternatives that can fulfill most, if not all, of the properties of an ideal contraceptive. As the developed and most of the developing nations have an infrastructure for mass immunization, the development of vaccines for contraception is an exciting proposition."
Indeed, a contraceptive vaccine is a sort of "Holy Grail" for population researchers. It turns out they've been beavering away at this technology since the 1960s and they have made some significant inroads. They've developed three different types of vaccines against pregnancy:
- One against women's eggs
- One against sperm
- One against early embryos (trophoblasts) that induces very early miscarriage
The egg vaccines turned out to be the most troublesome. "Our goal with our vaccine was to develop autoimmunity," Bonnie Dunbar, a 20-year veteran vaccine researcher, told the 4th International Public Conference on Vaccination in 2010, according to a report from a Population Research Institute reporter who was there. Dunbar had entered the field with aims of curtailing population growth and said that she wanted to train rabbits' immune systems to attack their own zona pellucida glycoproteins on their ova, as it happens sometimes in infertile women. She used pig proteins in her vaccine, just foreign enough to "trick the rabbit into inducing antibodies against its own self proteins."
It turned out to be too effective.
"We found out when we immunized these animals, however, that we completely destroyed the ovaries," Dunbar said. "Unfortunately, we weren't just looking at preventing fertilization now; we generated a complete autoimmune disease, which is also known as premature ovarian failure."
In every animal model she tested the vaccine in, including primates, it caused permanent autoimmune failure of the ovaries induced by their own bodies. After viewing the slides of these blasted ovaries, Dr. Dunbar called it quits.
"I am responsible," she declared, "for killing this vaccine for further human research, and I made some people in my biotech company and some other people very unhappy."
The anti-sperm vaccine efforts have been far more rewarding, however. "Various sperm antigens/genes have been delineated, cloned, and sequenced from various laboratories," wrote West Virginia University Professor Rajesh Naz in his 2011 paper Antisperm Contraception: Where we are and where we are going.
"Vaccination with these sperm antigens (recombinant/synthetic peptide/DNA) causes a reversible contraceptive effect in females and males of various animal species, by inducing a systemic and local antisperm antibody response."
One lab has even managed to produce a nasal spray vaccine that renders mice infertile.
In fact, the anti-sperm vaccines have been so successful that the US Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 that it registered a contraceptive vaccine for use on wild horses which is now currently being tested on elephants in South Africa.
But most promising of all have been the anti-human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG) vaccines – the kind the Kenyan bishops are worried about. "Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) appears soon after fertilization of the egg and plays a critical role in implantation of the embryo, explains a 2013 report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences .