Return to the Time of Cholera: The Unwanted Sequel

by Project Censored

Cholera is an extremely virulent disease that kills an estimated 100,000-120,000 people every year.  Outbreaks are typically found in countries that do not have advanced water treatment and purification facilities and/or immediately following a natural disaster which allows for the spread of contaminated water and food in the aforementioned nations.  Thanks to advanced water purification and treatment and proper sanitation, outbreaks of cholera are all but non-existent in developed countries.  The pharmaceutical company PaxVax, which on its website advertises its products as “Better vaccines to better the world”, has applied to start clinical trials for a “genetically modified live bacterial vaccine against cholera” in Australia, with plans for further trials in Canada and the United States as well.  PaxVax claims that its vaccine is “socially responsible” and “ideal for travelers to cholera endemic areas”.  Why introduce a live strain of a vaccine for a disease that has been virtually wiped out in the countries in which it is being tested?  How is this socially responsible?  Are the “paid volunteers” helping to better the world or are they just acting as the newest batch of guinea pigs for a multi-million dollar corporate giant preying on the poor for their own financial gains?


Christina Sarich, “GMO Cholera Bacteria to Be Released in Australia, Canada, U.S.,” Global Research, November 1, 2014

Student Researcher:  Adam Cox, Indian River State College

Faculty Evaluator:  Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College

Ethics Alert

Outbreaks of cholera in developed countries are rare to non-existent.  As a result of water purification and treatment and proper sanitation, there has not been an outbreak of cholera in the United States since 1910.  In fact, in the past ten years, there have only been 136 reported cases of cholera in the United States, all imported and none fatal.  Even smaller numbers can be found in Australia, with 27 reported cases in the past ten years, all but two imported and none fatal.  Likewise, in Canada, there have been 28 reported cases in the past ten years, all imported and none fatal.  Why then would a pharmaceutical company want to introduce a “genetically modified live bacterial vaccine against cholera” to “willing” citizens of these developed countries?
PaxVax claims that it is “socially responsible.”  Preventing disease is indeed socially responsible.  However, is it good science to introduce a live vaccine in nations where citizens are at little to no risk of ever contracting the disease and have a very different immune system than the citizens of the nations where the disease is prevalent?  What are the criteria for choosing these locations for these studies?  How does PaxVax advertise the study and who does it “target?”  Is it really being ethically responsible? The company is a privately held company after all.  It may claim to be interested in bettering the world but it may be that its efforts are focused on  two “specialized markets in the United States and Europe,” which are “traveler’s vaccines” and “biodefense and government stockpiles.”  Why else would it be conducting trials for a disease, known only to be endemic in underdeveloped nations, in the United States, Canada, and Australia?
PaxVax also claims that the World Health Organization supports its field trials.  Alarming questions/issues arise with the WHO’s involvement in PaxVax’s field trials.  One is its questionable history with vaccine trials, as evidenced by its involvement in the tetanus trials in the 1990’s in Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Philippines.  It was discovered that its vaccine contained amounts of hCG which caused negative results in study participants, not to mention the fact that the inclusion of the hCG in the vaccine was not disclosed to the participants of the study.  Either the WHO was not aware of the questionable decisions made by the pharmaceutical company they partnered with in the tetanus studies, or even more frightening is the thought that it deliberately injected unsuspecting people with the intention of gathering information having nothing to do with tetanus vaccine research.
The second question is why the WHO claims to support this trial aimed at travelers from developed countries whereas its own website states, “When used, vaccination should target vulnerable populations living in high risk areas and should not disrupt the provision of other interventions to control or prevent cholera epidemics.”  The supposed focus is to eliminate outbreaks of cholera and contain and quickly bring an end to any outbreaks that do occur, as evidenced by the statement that “vaccines provide a short term effect while longer term activities like improving water and sanitation are put in place.”  Why would it be interested in the pet project of a company that wants to ease the minds of rich travelers in search of an exotic vacation?  “World Health” seems to be more of a misnomer given such action.
Finally, the above statements were made in reference to two DEAD vaccines with a duration of protection of 2-3 years.  The live vaccine with the same strain as the one in the PaxVax trial had a duration of protection of only 3 months and is no longer being manufactured.  PaxVax uses the previous trial as a selling point on their website: “Our lead product, PXVX0200, is a single-dose, oral, live, attenuated vaccine against cholera entering Phase 3 clinical trials. This vaccine has low development risk as it utilizes the same strain (CVD 103-HgR) previously approved and marketed in six countries under the brand name “Orochol”.”  If the previously approved strain was so effective why is it no longer in circulation and why did it never receive official approval for widespread dissemination?
Who is PaxVax really trying to help with this trial?  Are the participants of the trials being given all of the pertinent information?  Are they being given only the vaccine they are signing up to receive or a little something extra like in previous trials supported by the WHO?  Are they being manipulated by shiny websites and slick salespeople claiming to be saving the world’s population?  Can we continue to support and allow these types of human trials given all of this damning information?  Educate yourself and then decide.