Sixtieth Anniversary for Polio Pioneers


Card from the 1954 Salk vaccine trial, courtesy Marsha DrakeCard from the 1954 Salk vaccine trial, courtesy Marsha Drake
Sixty years ago tomorrow the largest clinical trial in history began. On April 26, 1954, thousands of U.S. schoolchildren rolled up their sleeves to take Jonas Salk’s inactivated poliovirus vaccine. Newspapers reported that Randall Kerr of McClean, Virginia, was the first child in the trial to get the shot. (Thousands of others in earlier stages of research had received the vaccine, including Salk’s wife and children.)
The 1954 trial was blinded, meaning that the children didn’t know whether they received the vaccine or a saline placebo injection. Regardless, most viewed themselves if not exactly as test subjects (which they certainly were) but as Polio Pioneers, as they and their parents were encouraged to think of them. About 1.3 million first- second- and third-graders participated in the trial as vaccine recipients (about 422,000), placebo recipients (about 201,000), and observed control subjects (about 725,000) (see the official report on the trial for details on the study design). About nine months after the trial ended, Thomas Francis, MD, announced in April 1955 that the vaccine group had significantly fewer cases of polio than the control groups, and the vaccine was licensed.
Over the past few years, scores of participants in the 1954 vaccine trials have posted comments on this blog. Many participants recall being afraid both of getting the shots and of getting polio, and many remember friends and family members who became ill with polio. Memory can be tricky: several people remembered getting the polio “drops” in this trial – though the oral vaccine, in liquid form, would not be used for several more years. They were probably revaccinated with the oral vaccine later because of its better immunogenicity.
Most of the participants I’ve corresponded with take pride in their role in the trial. But some of them question the methods used to enroll children in the trial and remark on the changes we’ve seen since the 1950s in the ethical considerations that guide medical research.
Below are some of their reminiscences, taken directly from their blog comments. (The original blog post ishere. And you can read more about the history of polio and the vaccine at our timeline.)
Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

The Polio Crusade

THE POLIO CRUSADE IN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE A GOOD VIDEO THE STORY OF THE POLIO CRUSADE pays tribute to a time when Americans banded together to conquer a terrible disease. The medical breakthrough saved countless lives and had a pervasive impact on American philanthropy that ... Continue reading..http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/polio/

Erradicación de La poliomielitis

Polio Tricisilla Adaptada