Trials Begin For Polio Vaccine – 12/26/1954

US History |


For the first time, field trials for the Salk polio begin in McLean, Virginia and are conducted at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School on December 26th, 1954; the “patients” involve 1.8 million children. The children who participated hail from Finland, the United States and Canada in which doctors applied the double-blind method for the first time and is now the current standard; the criteria for this involves neither the attending physician or patient are aware if the inoculation was a placebo or the actual vaccine.

Eventually, the researchers would declare on April 12th, 1955 that the vaccine was effective and safe in which it became immediately the standard for America to have children receive this immunization. This contagious disease would over the future decades almost completely get rid of this in the Western Hemisphere thanks to the use of polio vaccines.

Officially known as poliomyelitis, polio has been around for many centuries and it is an infectious disease that is caused by a virus. Children are most commonly the ones to contract this and paralysis can occur. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, polio had reached epidemic proportions. One thing that became associated with the disease was an iron lung throughout the 1940s and 1950s; this was a huge metal tank with the purpose of assisting infected individuals that suffered with respiratory paralysis breathe.

Diagnosed with polio at age thirty-nine in 1921, President Franklin Roosevelt became from the waist down paralyzed; for the rest of his existence, he needed to use a wheelchair and leg braces in order to ambulate around. Roosevelt assisted in establishing the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938; this would later become the March of Dimes. Most of the studying of this disease, which included the trials of the Salk vaccine, was funded by this organization.

The original vaccine was created by New York born epidemiologist and physician Jonas Salk (1914-1995). While attending the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, Jonas would concentrate in the 1940s working on the anti-influenza vaccine. This would continue in 1952 where he worked at the University of Pittsburgh until developing the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV); the basis was on a dead-virus strain of polio. The biggest at the time in the United States’ history, the 1954 field trials were conducted not by Salk but his former colleague Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. from the University of Michigan.

Polish-born virologist and physician Albert Sabin (1906-1993) tried using an oral polio vaccine (OPV) that he constructed from a live virus that was weakened during the late 1950s. The vaccine was less expensive to make than Salk’s and easier to administer; so, it would become used by Americans in the early 1960s while ultimately for most countries became the vaccine of choice over Salk’s vaccine.

Although polio presently has been neutralized by the vaccine throughout the majority of the world, it continues to exist in a small number of countries like Asia and Africa; the disease still has no cure.

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