1956

Salk Vaccine for Polio Is Introduced.

By the 1950s, poliomyelitis was surging, with 58,000 new cases, and 3,000 deaths, reported in the United States in 1952 alone. At the same time physician Jonas Salk was continuing work to develop his vaccine to combat the polio epidemic. In 1953, his preliminary tests, carried out at the D. T. Watson School in Western Pennsylvania, indicated that a killed-virus serum conferred permanent protection against polio. Salk then conducted a larger, double-blind test between March and June 1954, with about 1.8 million first-, second-, and third-graders receiving either the vaccine or a placebo. As part of APTA’s continuing assistance with the vaccine effort, Lucy Blair, who at the time was staff coordinator of recruitment and assignment of PTs for the polio emergency dispatched 63 physical therapists to 44 states to conduct muscle testing. APTA also worked with the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, providing the requisite education to three Canadian physiotherapists who ran the muscle-testing portion of field trials in the Canadian provinces.

On April 12, 1955 — the tenth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s death — the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and Salk held a press conference at the vaccine evaluation center at the University of Michigan. The crowd of invited notables, including Lucy Blair and two other members of APTA’s Department of Professional Services, were the first to hear the historic announcement that the Salk vaccine was determined to be safe and highly effective. Immediately, the Food and Drug Administration gave six pharmaceutical houses the green light to produce the vaccine commercially in time for the upcoming polio season, and shortly thereafter mass inoculations began coast to coast.

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