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Dakota Datebook

Salk Polio Shots, Part 1

Back in the 50s, there was a terrible virus. Only the atomic bomb was feared more. Thousands of people fell ill. Many died. Children were especially vulnerable. And the public held out hope for a vaccine to conquer the disease.

It was polio – once called “infantile paralysis.” It could paralyze and even kill. Leg braces, crutches and dreaded iron lungs were symbols of the disease. 

Over many years, the March of Dimes raised millions of dollars in the fight to defeat polio, led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was stricken with polio and paralyzed at age 39. Celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney urged people to donate to the March of Dimes for vaccine research. From 1946 to 1955, polio struck nearly 2,000 people in North Dakota. Ninety-five died.

A team led by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh developed a vaccine that rolled out for field trials in 1954. About 1.8 million children across 44 states in grades 1-3 participated, including more than 6,100 children in Burleigh, Cass and Morton counties. Of those, more than 1,600 second-graders were given the shots, which consisted of three injections over several weeks. The other children got a placebo or were observed as controls. 

After a year, Salk’s vaccine was deemed a success. “Serum Whips Polio!” proclaimed The Bismarck Tribune in a front-page headline -- with an exclamation point.

Vaccination clinics were set for the days ahead, but North Dakota’s vaccine shipments were initially delayed. Later, some of the state’s first lots were recalled by the manufacturer for “further studies.” Nearly two months passed after news of the vaccine’s success before the first clinics were held in North Dakota. 

Burleigh, Cass and Morton counties were given priority because of their participation in the field trials. On this date in 1955, with enough vaccine available to immunize eligible children, vaccination clinic schedules were announced. The long-awaited day had come.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, May 27. Page 19

The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, August 5. Page 15

The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, November 4. Page 6

The Bismarck Tribune. 1954, December 24. Page 7

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, March 24. Page 23

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, April 6. Page 10

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, April 12. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, April 14. Pages 1, 3

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, May 7. Pages 1, 3

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, May 25. Page 14

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 3. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 4. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 6. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 7. Pages 1, 3

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 8. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 9. Pages 1, 3

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 10. Page 9

The Bismarck Tribune. 1955, June 13. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1963, March 18. Page 6

North Dakota State Department of Health. (1955). North Dakota health news (Vol. 10, No. 1), March 1955. 

North Dakota State Department of Health. (1955). North Dakota health news (Vol. 10, No. 3), September 1955.

North Dakota State Department of Health. (1956). Thirty-fourth biennial report July 1, 1954 – June 30, 1956. North Dakota State Department of Health: Bismarck, ND

https://www.ndhealth.gov/Disease/Documents/faqs/Polio.pdf

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16281467/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1114166/

https://www.marchofdimes.org/news/polio-victory-remembered-as-march-of-dimes-marks-50th-anniversary-of-salk-vaccine-field-trials.aspx

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