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April 12: The Cure for Polio

April 12, 2014
sal0-005The one-year field trial of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, involving 1.83 million children in 44 states, was announced a success on this date in 1955. The Francis Field Trials were the first to use the double-blind method that became standard in drug-testing. Dr. Thomas Francis Jr., director of the Poliomyelitis Vaccine Evaluation Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, declared the vaccine to be “safe, effective, and potent.” The test was financed by $7.5 million in grants from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, including nearly two million dollars worth of donated dimes. Polio first took root in the U.S. in 1894, in Vermont. In 1908, Dr. Karl Landsteiner determined its cause to be a virus. An epidemic in 1916 brought death to 6,000 and paralysis to 27,000. The worst epidemic, in 1952, produced 57,628 cases. By 1957 polio cases in the U.S. had fallen by nearly 90 percent. Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine, field tested in 1961, marked the end of polio in the developed world: The Americas were certified polio-free in 1994; Europe in 2002. To see newsreel footage about the field trial of Salk’s polio vaccine, look below. “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” -Jonas Salk
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