5 Things You Didn't Know About The Polio Vaccine

On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received the first injections of the new polio vaccine. Here are 5 things you didn't know about the polio vaccine...


Salk Tested The Vaccine on Himself And His Family After successfully inoculating thousands of monkeys, Salk began the risky step of testing the vaccine on humans in 1952. In addition to administering the vaccine to children at two Pittsburgh-area institutions, Salk injected himself, his wife and his three sons in his kitchen after boiling the needles and syringes on his stovetop. Salk announced the success of the initial human tests to a national radio audience on March 26, 1953. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Was Instrumental in the Development of a Vaccine Franklin D. Roosevelt came down with polio in 1921 at age 39, following his nomination as a vice presidential candidate, which left his legs permanently paralyzed. Five years after he was elected president, he helped create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which became the March of Dimes. Using poster children and celebrities to encourage funding, the foundation raised $20 million or more each year by the latter part of the 1940s.


A Tainted Batch of The Salk Vaccine Killed 11 People This happened in 1955 when a batch of the inactivated-strain vaccines was contaminated with live polio virus due to human error. 11 people died; 200 had become infected with polio as a result of the tainted batch. Although the United States surgeon general ordered all inoculations temporarily halted, Americans continued to vaccinate themselves and their children. Outside of the “Cutter Incident,” not a single case of polio attributed to the Salk vaccine was ever contracted in the United States.ad

Salk Did Not Patent His Vaccine On April 12, 1955, the day the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow interviewed its creator and asked who owned the patent. “Well, the people, I would say... There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” said Salk. Lawyers for the foundation had investigated the possibility of patenting the vaccine but did not pursue it, in part because of Salk’s reluctance.ad

The U.S. Is Now Considered Polio-Free The CDC says the U.S. has been considered polio-free since 1979, thanks to those early mass vaccinations and continuing childhood vaccination requirements. While polio is a distant memory in most of the world, the disease still exists in some places and mainly affects children under 5. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs).