Introduction: Shot Felt 'Round the World (01:35)
See footage of healthy children. The average human lifespan has increased by 30 years over the last century. Pertussis, German measles, diphtheria, and other conditions all had much higher death tolls before vaccines were developed. Before Dr. Jonas Salk found a cure, no disease was as feared as much as polio.
Mysterious Summer Plague (04:12)
The Salk vaccine was introduced in the spring of 1955; just three years earlier, 57,900 cases of paralytic polio were reported in the United States. It was a “summer plague” that spread silently, killing and incapacitated thousands of children each year. Its cause was unknown, and many myths circulated regarding how it spread.
Transmission and Symptoms (04:08)
The poliovirus was transmitted from person to person, working its way into the nervous system where it damaged anterior horn cells, which are essential to muscular control. Victims would experience fever, difficulty breathing, paralysis and other symptoms as their conditions deteriorated. Many needed iron lungs to breathe properly.
America Throws in Its Dimes (03:19)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt caught the disease in 1921 at the age of 39. In 1939, he founded the March of Dimes, a voluntary organization that asked Americans to donate their pocket change towards the goal of eradicating polio and other childhood diseases. It was a cause célèbre for Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney and others.
Jonas Salk (14:32)
Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh in 1947 and received a grant to study polio. He believed he could trick the body into creating antibodies with an inactivated vaccine instead of using a live virus that put recipients at risk.
D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children (03:46)
Salk tested potential vaccines on patients at the DT Watson Home for Crippled Children in 1952. There he proved he could induce an immune response with an inactivated virus vaccine. Salk made a point of testing the vaccine on himself and his own children.
Scale-up and Pittsburgh Trials (10:54)
Percival Bazeley helped Salk’s team mass produce the vaccine. Pittsburgh parents were quick to volunteer their children for trials, and thousands were immunized in 1954. Salk had to defend his work against claims made by Walter Winchell, a yellow journalist who spread fear that the vaccine caused the disease it was meant to cure.
Nationwide Trials Begin (01:21)
Nationwide trials of the polo vaccine began in April 1954; 1.8 million children participated, making it the largest field trial of a vaccine in history. Salk was initially reluctant to use a control group, feeling that it was morally reprehensible to knowingly withhold the vaccine from some children.
Shot Felt 'Round the World (06:12)
Results of the field trials were tabulated at the University of Michigan and released on April 12, 1955. The vaccine was found to be 80 to 90 percent effective against paralytic poliomyelitis. There was mass celebration, as if a war had ended, and Salk was recognized as a national hero.
"Would You Patent the Sun?" (03:37)
Salk considered the polio vaccine a gift to the people. The American people had rallied together, determined to defeat a disease. The World Health Organization declared the U.S. to be free of polio in 1994, but the disease remains active elsewhere in the world.
Credits: The Shot Felt 'Round the World (03:03)
Credits: The Shot Felt 'Round the World
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