1954 Polio Pioneer

Were you a polio pioneer, or are you related to someone who was? We’re looking for people who participated in the groundbreaking trial for Jonas Salk’s killed-virus polio vaccine in 1954.

We’d love to talk with you about your experience. We’re also hoping to get photograph of a Polio Pioneer card, a card given to children for participating in the first national tests of a trial polio vaccine conducted during 1954. (For reference, see a photograph of a Polio Pioneer card on the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s excellent web exhibit on the history of polio vaccine development.) Email us at vaccines@collegeofphysicians.org to let us know about your experiences as a Polio Pioneer. [Edit 3/8/2013: Thank you to so many of you who sent us pictures of your cards. Feel free to keep sending them if you wish, but we do have quite a few now.]

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Just saw Dr Salk's 100th b/d today and had to write.
To answer Wanda Douglas comment about the scar, I think you are talking about the Smallpox Vaccine which was discontinued about 1972.
I too was a polio pioneer in Corpus Christi, TXin 1953-1954 School year. LAter the polio vaccine was given orally on sugar cubes, that was the Sabin Live attenuated virus, which was discontinued and the IPV (Salk) is now being given again. Probably because the live virus was excreted in stool, polio being an Enterovirus and susceptible persons, namely AIDS patients were also becoming infected with polio. Also the vaccine had to be frozen until administered, and storage became a problem especially in 3rd world countries, not to mention that at times the frozen vaccines were left out on delivery docks and became weakened and when given would not give desired results.
Happy Birthday Dr Salk

I was in 2nd grade in Albuquerque, New Mexico when I was a Polio Pioneer. I still have the card, but not the pin. I'm sure my mother let me wear it and I lost is somewhere. What I remember most about the shot was being very proud that I hadn't cried. I had the shot with my classmates, but it was my pediatrician giving the shot and he was so good! I don't know if my parents ever knew if I got the vaccine or the placebo. If they did, they never told me. In any case, I knew it was a wonderful thing that was going to save lots of kids. I remember how scared we all were; we couldn't go to the swimming pool or the movies because we might get polio. Thank God for Jonas Salk and the brave people he worked with and for all the parents who were willing to take the chance. As a mom and now a grandmother, I'm not sure I could have done it.

I was born in Chicago in July of 1947. I was in first grade in the 1953-54 school year, during which I was six years old, and in second grade in the 1953-54 school year, during which I was seven years old. I lived then in Skokie, Illinois, and went to Lincoln School ("Lower Lincoln," as grades K-6 were called; "Upper Lincoln" was 7th and 8th grades, in the same building).

I think I was a participant in the field trials - I have a memory of vaccinations in the school Multipurpose Room - but I wonder if the information still exists to confirm this. Can you tell me if an actual schedule of participating schools exists? Or were the field trials only carried out in individual physicians' offices, and my memories are of a different vaccination entirely?

Since my career has been in public health (MPH '75, University of Michigan School of Public Health) it would be particularly interesting to me to know if I participated in the field trials. Thanks for any guidance.

-- Steve Gold

I was a Polio Pioneer. I was in second grade at Grant elementary school in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. I don't remember much more about the day other than standing in line with other classmates and rolling up my sleeve. I did receive a pin, but do not recall a card.

My mother was told several years later that I had been inoculated with the placebo, or sterile water. I was in 1st Grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Scotia New York when I received my polio-pioneer pin in 1954.

I am a Polio Pioneer. I was in 3rd grade at Boyd School, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My mother treasured that card, but I don't think there was a pin. I later also had the Sabin vaccine on one Sunday when my entire town (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin) lined up at the elementary school for the sugar cubes.

I still have my polio pioneer card and pin. I was a student at the Scarborough Country Day School, Scarborough, NY. I was notified that I had received the real vaccine. I am 68 years old and have never had a major health issue.

My class, first or 2nd grade, 1954? was "Polio Pioneers" at St Joseph grade school in Yakima, WA. We got shots. I believe half the class got placebo, half got the actual vaccine. our parents were told after the study, so that those who got placebo could get actual vaccine once it was released. One boy in our class got the placebo, and did contract polio and died that year. It was still fairly common in those days. I remember films of people in "iron longs." It was a frightening disease. When the oral vaccine came out when I wass in high school, we got that too. It was adminstered as drops on a sugar cube. We had to get a seconf dose later. As for a Polio Pioneer card, I don't remember that, but we we given a pin which I held onto for years, don't know what ever became of it.

I remember being in first grade at Blessed Sacrament School and getting in line to get the first polio shot, I had the card that said polio pioneer. I never realized before that time that there was a threat of getting that dreaded virus.

I am a Polio Pioneer taking part in the first tests in Calgary, Alberta. I did recieve a Polio Pioneer card and still have it, if I can find it. My sister Betty was also a Polio Pioneer.
The grade six students were given a test vaccine which was a double blind test. I will try to locate the card so you may be able to get a photo of it. Please be patient as I have recently moved can't lay my hands on it at this time.

One of my sons was a part of the Salk Vaccine Field Trial in 1954
at the Levittown School in N.Y. His father had already become a
victim of that dread disease in 1953. At that time I and my four children received the Gamma Globin shot. When the Field Test was available, my second-grade boy received the vaccine (we found that out in 1955 when the results were revealed). My daughter was 11 years old so she was not part of the trial. My other 2 sons were pre-schoolers...All of us had symptoms of Polio in 1953 but did not actually come down with it...except the second-grader who never got any symptoms at all...(although he was always inclined to "catch" anything that was "going around")...His father was a polio resperator patient for 20 years (paralyzed from the waist up)spent a year in the iron lung and the other 19 with various types of breathing apparatus as new ones were invented along the way)and slept in a "Rocking Bed" ....but could not walk, because he couln't breath. He died of pneumonia in 1973. Thank God for
the vaccine which has save millions of people from that terrible
disease.

Thank you for your moving comment, Mrs. Murway. Best wishes to you and your family.

I was 6 years old and in the 1st grade in a small town outside of Austin, Texas. The teacher didn't give an explanation, she just told us to line up and follow her. We stood in a long line outside of a building. Everything seemed ok until a few kids came out crying, then we started getting scared. But the actual shot didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. I sometimes look at the scar on my left arm from the polio vaccination and remember a bunch of scared kids that did not want to go through that door where the nurses were waiting./ My mom did have to take me see a doc after the vaccination because I came down with a thrush infection in my mouth. The doc looked at my vaccination wound and said it was healing nicely but told my mom not to let me put anything in my mouth. I still don't understand it but I was told by the doctor to lay in the sun on a blanket with only a pair of panties on, for at least an hour everyday until it was cleared up. My mom also had to wipe my mouth out with something that was a blue liquid. So not only did I have a vaccination shot but an infection afterwards too. So, I had a new scar and infection, back to back of each other.

I remember standing in line with my classmates,. I think I was outside-but can't be sure. I was in 3rd grade at McMorrow school in Richmond Heights, MO when I received my polio shot. I remember the word "pioneer" was used, but I don't remember a card. I do remember I had made a little friend in Kindergarten , Joey. It was too late for him. He had had polio and wore leg braces and walked with crutches. I was born June, 1947.

I received my shots in 3rd grade at Washington Avenue elementary school in Chatham NJ and later received a Polio Pioneer card dated February 11, 1955, which I still have. I had an aversion to large needles (and to a smaller child, these needles were gargantuan!), so shortly after being stuck in the arm I fainted in the school hallway, hitting my head on the ceramic tile wall behind me. When I came to in the nurse's office, I was sent home for the rest of the day with a nice-sized goose-egg, so it was a successful day in not having to return to class! I must have had the placebo because my father made me and my two sisters take the Type II oral polio vaccine on November 4, 1962 when I was 16. The aversion to needles persists to this day.

WE WERE PIONEERS, RECEIVED A PIN, CARD AND THE REAL STUFF AT ARMADA AREA SCHOOLS WHILE IN THE THIRD AND FORTH GRADES

I received both the shot and the sugar cube. My parents five years earlier lost a son to polio. So we were very much encouraged to take what vaccine they gave us. It was in Oklahoma. The first shot was taken at the county health clinic. The sugar cube was taken at school. I don't know if it has anything to do with it but I have Hashimoto's and hypothyroid disease. I don't know if I was given the real thing or the placebo.

I was a polio pioneer in Cornwall, N.Y. at was then known as Cornwall High School (K-12). I remember getting, I believe, a series of three injections. Kids waited in a long line and many were crying as they didn't want to get a "shot". As it turned out, all was for naught as we were in the placebo group and had to return for the real thing after the results were announced. Polio was such a feared disease, parents were eager to have their children in the program to avoid having their children get this horrible disease. I did received a card, and its stored with other keepsakes of my youth.

I was a Polio Pioneer at Algonac elementary school, Algonac, MI. I was in the second grade. We received our dosage orally, by serum-soaked sugar cubes. I don't recall if I received the real thing or not, but do know I was immunized against polio at some point. I have my Polio Pioneer card and Polio Pioneer button, pictures of which I have e-mailed to host site.

I was in second grade at PS #3 in Yonkers when they gave out the polio vaccine as a trial. The gymnasium was set up like a hospital with screens, nurses, and the smell of alcohol permeating the room. Some kids never had a shot before. I had, so I wasn't too scared. The nurse held your head and turned it away from looking at the needle. I received the real vaccine, my cousin had the water placebo. I still have my button and card.

I was a Polio Pioneer in 1954. The test site was Shelby, OH. All of us participating in the research were excited...until the injection. I was in the placebo group so I was given the "real" inoculation after the test results were released. Like many others, I was given a Polio Pioneer card which I still have.

I took part in the Salk vaccine trial in Naperville, IL. (newspaper archives say that whole counties were chosen to participate - mine was DuPage: http://veridian.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinois?a=d&d=DIL19540406.2.54 ). I don't remember the "Polio Pioneer" title or getting a card or pin, but I remember we lined up in the school gym to get the injections, and I knew that it was a study to see whether the vaccine would work. I think most of us, and most parents, were happy (plus scared, at least I was) to be part of it - polio was so frightening, and we felt we were part of something important. I think I turned out to have gotten the placebo, but not sure after all this time.

I was a polio pioneer when I was 8 years old, at Gulfcrest Elementary School in Houston, Texas in 1954. I believe I still have the card, but the pin was stolen along with my jewelry in a burglary about 20 years ago. I was more upset about the loss of the pin than I was about the jewelry ! I don't remember finding out whether I had the actual vaccine or the placebo, but always assumed I had the vaccine as my older brother was striken with polio and I seemed to be protected from the disease. Some years later, I was also given the Sabin vaccine through a school in Decatur, Illinois and had a very strong reaction ( fever and couldn't move my neck for several weeks ). I recovered fully and have had no negative affects since then. I remember getting the vaccine well. After we went through the line to get the vaccine we were given a comic book and peppermint stick to enjoy while we sat in the hall for the rest of the class to finish.

Hello, Anonymous - thanks for the comment. If you were in the placebo group, you would have been given the vaccine after the observation period. That was the protocol in any case. I hope your older brother recovered quickly. Regards from the History of Vaccines staff.

I was a polio pioneer. I received a little metal button with polio pioneer on it. I still have the button. This was 1954.

My grade school class at Arthur McGill school in New Castle PA took part in the polio vaccine trial. We lined up in the hall and put out our arms to get the shot. I remember fainting after returning to my classroom.

I dont recall getting a card but we may have been given them.

I remember getting the shot in school and then going on the jungle gym. I think that stretching out my arm made it feel better. I do not have the card but I do still have my pin.

I think I was in second grade when I received the first vaccination which in fact was a placebo, so then I had to have the actual vaccination. I was sent home with a piece of paper for my parents to sign, and though I argued against it (fear of shots), I lost. I was in PS 104 in Bronx, NY. I was very fearful. We had to line up in the hallway before entering the dreaded vaccination room which smelled of alcohol. The kid in front of me threw up, so it was not a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, I have no paper work. I vaguely remember receiving a pin.

My Salk Vaccine story is an incredible one......one I have never heard from anyone else. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade at Joseph P. Stockton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois in 1955 and 1956 respectively. In one of those years I ACCIDENTALLY was given two (2) shots of Salk Vaccine approx. 1 minute apart in the school auditorium. That night I had a raging fever at home and by the next morning paralysis began to set in. I was paralyzed from the waist down for approx. two weeks and then gradually relearned to walk and went back to school. I am now 65 and in a medical crisis situation in Houston Texas area and cannot find a doctor to treat all that is wrong......including a very severe case of Post Polio Syndrome that has been progressively getting worse each year. I am on medicare and desperately need someone to help me. There must be some information the authorities or medical community can get from studying the facts of my case and my horrible health consequences from those two shots given simultaneously......please respond at least with a name who I can contact. God Bless and thank you,
Linda P.

Dear Linda, I'm so sorry to hear about your health problems. You may already be familiar with the work of Post-Polio Health. If not, though, I would suggest getting in touch with them to find out about resources for polio survivors. Their website is http://www.post-polio.org/. They are in St. Louis and their phone is 314-534-0475. Though it doesn't look like it's been updated recently, they have a section on their website where they list current research studies that are enrolling participants. You may find an opportunity there. Best wishes for your improved health, from HistoryofVaccines.org

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