What can we learn from the great polio vaccine heist of 1959?

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Polio Vaccine Heist

The great Canadian polio vaccine heist

Vaccines, for obvious reasons, are in high demand during a pandemic, which also threatens their supply. Similarly, people are anxiously waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the process of receiving the vaccines is slow with countries facing supply shortages already. It gives black market traders an opportunity to exploit the situation, in this case an opportunity to materialise a polio vaccine heist. What’s more, this isn’t the first time opportunists will be taking advantage of the situation.

In 1959, the polio epidemic had plagued all of Canada. The country saw the most cases that year, with Montreal desperately waiting for more vaccines. At the end of August Connaught Labs send a huge shipment of vials to cover the entire country. Authorities were going to redistribute the remaining vaccines within the provinces.

Although, strangely, it never came to the point of redistribution.

A temporary vaccine worker named Jean Paul Robinson was responsible for distributing the vials between various hospitals. However, despite knowing the urgency of endemic, he broke into the Microbiology Institute in the University of Montréal with two accomplices to steal the vaccines. One of the accomplices locked the night guard in a cage with 500 lab monkeys. They stole all the cases of the vaccine and escaped the scene with the guard’s car.

They stole 75,000 vials worth $50,000, pulling off a polio vaccine heist.

The crime came as a shock to the entire country. Robinson hid the stolen money in a rented apartment building. Vaccine clinics had to turn people away in vain. This is when the provincial police got into action to find the culprits. However, the investigation led to nothing but a dead end. A few days later the investigator were in luck because Robinson did not have enough cold storage to store the vaccines. His aim was to sell as many vials as he could but a lack of prevented that from happening.

He stored the vials in empty boxes of beer on top of blocks of ice to keep them cool. And some of the vials were stored in a refrigerator next to the beer. He left an anonymous tip to the investigators naming the location of the lost vials. However, by this time, the police were already suspecting Robinson. After knowing that the police were out to track him down, he went incognito. But, despite the excellent ruse, he was called in for trial.

On trial he claimed that he retrieved the vaccine from the culprit.

He told the judge that he had been sold the vaccine and was planning on arranging a meeting with the thief, while cooperating with the police. While his story was far-fetched and there were dozens of witnesses who spoke against him, the court acquitted him as not guilty.

As millions of people wait for the COVID-19 vaccine, this is a warning of the possible consequences of poorly planned vaccine programs.

References

The Great Vaccine Heist Of 1959 Saw A Man Locked In A Monkey Cage With 500 Rhesus Monkeys https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/the-great-vaccine-heist-of-1959-saw-a-man-locked-in-a-monkey-cage-with-500-rhesus-monkeys/

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Dr. Aiman Shahab is a dentist with a bachelor’s degree from Dow University of Health Sciences. She is an experienced freelance writer with a demonstrated history of working in the health industry. Skilled in general dentistry, she is currently working as an associate dentist at a private dental clinic in Karachi, freelance content writer and as a part time science instructor with Little Medical School. She has also been an ambassador for PDC in the past from the year 2016 – 2018, and her responsibilities included acting as a representative and volunteer for PDC with an intention to make the dental community of Pakistan more connected and to work for benefiting the underprivileged. When she’s not working, you’ll either find her reading or aimlessly walking around for the sake of exploring. Her future plans include getting a master’s degree in maxillofacial and oral surgery, settled in a metropolitan city of North America.

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