History of Vaccines blog readers have been sending us their recollections from the landmark 1954 trial of Jonas Salk’s inactivated poliovirus vaccine. We had posted several of their stories to our blog as comments on an earlier blog post, but they disappeared in a transition to our new website.
Recently, a kind blog reader saw our request for a photograph of a Polio Pioneer card. So we’re using this as an opportunity to post the photo and assemble the recollections of the Polio Pioneers and polio survivors who have written to us. Clearly, they all have vivid memories of their part in the trial, and most look back with pride on their contribution.
Mrs. K___ sent us a photo of the card (reproduced here) marking her participation in the trial. As Mrs. K____ wrote, "I remember lining up to get the shots. I thought I was in kindergarten, but it turns out I was probably in 1st grade. There were 2 lines. Some of the children got the real vaccine, and some got the placebo (we thought it was water). There was a series of three, so we always had to go on the line we were sent to. After the test was over our parents were told who had gottten the real vaccine and who had gotten the placebo. Lucky for me I had gotten the real because the children that did not get the real had to get the shots all over again. I was glad I didn't have to go through it again.” And, also from Mrs. K____, a bit later: “As I recall now, I remember there were three rows. I just remembered the two rows because I wouldn't have had any thought of what the children in the third row had gotten (or not), so I just remembered the two rows. Now that I saw the picture, from Kansas, on your website, that was exactly what it was like.”
Indeed, Mrs. K____’s memories are probably correct: kindergartners were not enrolled in the trial. Children in grades 1-3 were included: in some communities, first graders received the injections, and in others, children in all three grades were vaccinated.
Mrs. K____ participated in the trial in Queens, New York, and was obviously enrolled in one of the vaccinated/placebo parts of the trial. (In some areas, community members objected to employing a control group that received injected placebos. Rather, these communities established observed control groups of children who did not receive any type of injection and who were simply observed for signs of polio infection.) More