“Today in History”, one of my favorite parts in the Seattle Times, has this item today: “1954: The first mass inoculation of children against polio with the Salk vaccine began in Pittsburgh”. There’s so much hidden behind that sentence.
Salk is one of my heroes. Every time I see someone afflicted with polio I think about the pain that the disease inflicts. And I think about all the people saved from this by vaccines developed by Salk, Sabin and others – what a big impact these people had and continue to have.
At another level, this field study of Salk’s vaccine was (and continues to be) impressive. To quote from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polio_vaccine):
“Beginning February 23, 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis; the largest medical experiment in history. The test began with some 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California. By the conclusion of the study, roughly 440,000 received one or more injections of the vaccine, about 210,000 children received a placebo, consisting of harmless culture media, and 1.2 million children received no vaccination and served as a control group, who would then be observed to see if any contracted polio. The results of the field trial were announced April 12, 1955 … The Salk vaccine had been 60 – 70% effective against PV1 (poliovirus type 1), over 90% effective against PV2 and PV3, and 94% effective against the development of bulbar polio. … In the U.S, following a mass immunization campaign promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States. “