Article about the Salk polio vaccine tragedy

I have been following the discussion about vaccines for a while now, if you have a chance to watch Ty Bollingers videos “The truth about vaccines” I urge you to do it – really important information!
One of the (many) things they talked about was the polio vaccine – here’s an article about that…

History is a powerful thing. If you accurately tell the story of an event that occurred, you get one picture, one understanding of it. Leave one tiny little detail out, however, and the whole picture changes. You can get thousands of details right, but get one wrong, or simply omit telling it, and an historical event can become so distorted that it becomes a lie. Take the story of the Salk inactivated polio vaccine (IPV). During the first half of the 1950s, Jonas Salk, MD developed the first injectable vaccine against polio containing inactivated, or “killed”, strains of the poliovirus.

As a dead, rather than live, virus vaccine, Dr. Salk’s IPV supposedly carried no risk of giving recipients “vaccine-associated polio paralysis.”1 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “IPV is produced from wild-type poliovirus strains of each serotype that have been inactivated (killed) with formalin.”2

Here’s that little detail, though. The poliovirus that Dr. Salk killed with formalin, or formaldehyde, were not always killed; they sometimes only appeared to be killed.

Live poliovirus, which was put in an injectable vaccine, would appear to be inactivated right after it was made, but sometimes it would ‘resurrect’ in the vial… In essence, the formaldehyde did not kill off all the polioviruses in these vaccines, which led to live polio viruses being injected. As a result, more people developed paralysis from the vaccine in 1955 than would have developed it from a wild, normal natural poliovirus.3


Field trials for the Salk vaccine were conducted on more than 1,800,000 children in the United States in 1954.4 Sponsored by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), now known as the March of Dimes, “623,972 schoolchildren were injected with vaccine or placebo, and more than a million others participated as ‘observed’ controls.’5

On April 12, 1955, Thomas Francis Jr., MD, director of the Poliomyelitis Vaccine Evaluation Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, announced to the world that the Salk vaccine was “safe, effective, and potent,”—that it was “up to 90%” effective in preventing paralytic polio. Dr. Francis had been one of Dr. Salk’s professors at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology where Salk did his postgraduate training.4

During mid-April of 1955, about 400,000 people—mostly schoolchildren—in the U.S. were vaccinated with the Salk vaccine manufactured by Cutter Laboratories.6 It turns out that more than 200,000 of these children, living in five western and midwestern states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico7), were injected with vaccines “in which the process of inactivating the live virus proved to be defective.” The Cutter-produced vaccines ended up causing 40,000 cases of polio. It severely paralyzed 200 children and killed 10.8

The first of these cases to be reported was that of a young girl named Susan Pierce, who had received the vaccine on April 18, 1955.7

Five days later, she developed fever and neck stiffness. Six days later, her left arm was paralyzed. Seven days later, she was placed in an iron lung, and nine days later, she was dead.7

In his book The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis, Paul Offit, MD writes, “Seventy-five percent of Cutter’s victims were paralyzed for the rest of their lives.” A team led by epidemiologisit Alexander Langmuir of the Communicable Diseases Center (now the CDC) in Atlanta, GA determined that “the disease caused by Cutter’s vaccine was worse than the disease caused by natural polio virus,” adds Dr. Offit.7

Children given Cutter’s vaccine were more likely to be paralyzed in their arms, more likely to suffer severe and permanent paralysis, more likely to require breathing assistance in iron lungs, and more likely to die than children naturally infected with polio.7

The so-called “Cutter Incident” led to the recall of the Cutter vaccine and the eventual replacement of the Salk IPV with the attenuated (weakened) live oral polio vaccine (OPV) developed by Albert Sabin, MD and introduced in 1963. (A modified inactivated Salk vaccine was re-introduced in the 1990s after the only cases of polio occurring in the U.S. were vaccine strain polio cases because live OPV can cause vaccine strain polio in the recipient or a close contact of a recently vaccinated person shedding live vaccine strain polio virus in body fluids.)8

But the fact that some improperly inactivated lots of the original polio vaccine paralyzed and killed American children was concealed from the public for a long time.

In their book Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and The Forgotten History, Suzanne Humphries, MD and Roman Bystrianyk write, “You may be wondering how this information was concealed from the public for nearly fifty years. Congressman Percy Priest ordered and chaired a full investigation of the vaccine controversy.”)9 According to them, Congressman Priest, who represented the 6th District of Tennessee, admitted in 1956 that,

… in the previous year (1955) many responsible persons had felt that the public should be spared the ordeal of ‘knowledge about controversy.’ If word ever got out that the Public Health Service had actually done something damaging to the health of the American people, the consequences would b terrible… We felt that no lasting good could come to science or the public if the Public Health Services were discredited.”9

Two key points to note here. First, the problem with the Cutter-produced vaccine should have come as a surprise to the scientists and public health officials who were familiar with the development of the Salk IPV. According to Dr. Humphries and Bystrianyk:

The Salk invention was an injectable, supposedly formaldehyde-inactivated version of poliovirus vaccine. There were serious problems with the viral inactivation process that were known by insiders from the outset of the vaccine’s development.9

Unfortunately, whenever scientists involved in the vaccine’s development raised concerns that poliovirus had not been fully killed, they were “rapidly subdued.”9

As a result of ignoring the warnings by highly qualified scientists who repeatedly and publicly explained why and how the inactivation process was flawed from the beginning, the vaccine virus needlessly infected, paralyzed, and killed children and their household contacts.9

Secondly, Cutter Laboratories was not the only manufacturer of the the Salk IPV. Wyeth Laboratories also produced a defective Salk vaccine that caused paralysis. Other pharmaceutical companies are believed to have done so, as well. But only Cutter’s vaccine was recalled. This means that, potentially, tens of millions of doses of improperly inactivated “live” Salk vaccine were sold and injected into children in the U.S. and around the world until the “inactivated” Salk vaccine was replaced by the live oral Sabin vaccine in the early-1960s.

This may help explain, at least partially, why the cases of polio in the U.S. increased by 50% from 1957 to 1958, and by 80% between 1958 and 1959.10 According to Bernard Greenberg, PhD, head of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health:

In five New England states cases of polio roughly doubled after polio vaccine was introduced. Nevertheless in the midst of the polio panic of the 1950s, with pressure to find a magic bullet, statistics were manipulated by health authorities to give the quite the opposite impression.10

Keep in mind that these dramatic increases in polio following the introduction of the Salk IPV occurred shortly after the U.S. government had already significantly relaxed its guidelines for diagnosing polio. In 1954, the government redefined polio. I wrote about this other little detail of history that has been widely overlooked in my article “Polio Wasn’t Vanquished, It Was Redefined.”11 Dr. Greenberg explained this classic example of government sleight of hand…

In order to qualify for classification as paralytic poliomyelitis, the patient had to exhibit paralytic symptoms for at least 60 days after the onset of the disease. Prior to 1954, the patient had to exhibit paralytic symptoms for only 24 hours. Laboratory confirmation and the presence of residual paralysis were not required. After 1954, residual paralysis was determined 10 to 20 days and again 50 to 70 days after the onset of the disease. This change in definition meant that in 1955 we started reporting a new disease, namely, paralytic poliomyelitis with a longer lasting paralysis.12

We can only imagine how much worse the official number of polio cases would have been during the second half of the 1950s had the same diagnosis standard continued to be followed, rather than arbitrarily changed in midstream. By any measure, the early Salk polio vaccine campaigns cannot be termed an unqualified “success.” Yet, since the story has been so repeatedly, utterly inaccurately told, our understanding of the history of the polio vaccine “miracle” is that it is one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. And, as we have seen with the Sabin live oral polio vaccine that continues to cause vaccine strain polio cases around the world, there are big questions about how high the price has been—and will continue to be—for using that polio vaccine as well.

History is indeed a powerful thing. If you teach it wrong for more than half a century, it is hard to unteach, because a particular version of a story can become so ingrained in the public’s collective memory that few can accept that what we’ve come to believe to be an unquestioned scientific truth is, in fact, a myth.

And if that sacred cow is an illusion, then what else may we have gotten wrong along the way? Suddenly, mainstream vaccine science doesn’t feel so certain, so… scientific.


1 Polio Global Eradication Initiative. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).
2 World Health Organization. Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).
3 Mercola J. The Forgotten History of Vaccinations You Need to Be Aware Of. Jan. 18, 2015.
4 University of Michigan School of Public Health. 1955 Polio Vaccine Trial Announcement.
5 Meldrum M. “A calculated risk”: the Salk polio vaccine field trials of 1954BMJ Oct. 31, 1998; 317(7167): 1233–1236.
6 Nathanson N, Langmuir AD. The Cutter Incident: Poliomyelitis Following Formaldehyde-Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccination in the United States During the Spring of 1955Am J Epidemiol Mar. 12, 1963.
7 Offit P. The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine Crisis. 2005, p 84.
8 Fitzpatrick M. The Cutter Incident: How America’s First Polio Vaccine Led to the Growing Vaccine CrisisJ R Soc Med March 2006; 99(3): 156.
9 Humphries S, Bystrianyk R. Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and The Forgotten History. July 27, 2013.
10 Chaitow L. Vaccination and Immunisation: Dangers, Delusions and Alternatives. 1998, p. 55.
11 Cáceres M. Polio Wasn’t Vanquished, It Was RedefinedThe Vaccine Reaction July 9, 2015.
12 James W. Immunization The Reality Behind the Myth. 1995, p. 36.

Perhaps the most egregious example of clever sleight of hand (… not to mention the outright, blatant rewriting of history) on the part of public health officials in the United States occurred in 1954 when the U.S. government changed the diagnostic criteria for polio.1 It was the year that medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk produced his inactivated injectable polio vaccine ((IPV). The vaccine was licensed in 1955 and began to be used to inoculate millions of children against polio.

The Salk vaccine has been widely hailed as the vanquisher of polio, and it is commonly used as the shining example of how vaccines are the miracle drugs for combating infectious diseases… and now even against diseases that are not infectious. Pick any disease, illness or disorder you want. You got cancer, cholera, peanut allergies, stress, obesity… we’ll develop a vaccine for it.

What the apologists for the Salk vaccine regurgitate from a common script (… some might say scripture) is that before the vaccine was introduced and tested on one million children—the so-called “Polio Pioneers”—in 19542 more than 50,000 people in the U.S. were contracting polio each year, and that by the end of the 1950s the numbers were down to less than 10,000.3 Ergo, the Salk vaccine saved the U.S. from polio. Open and shut case.

Hmm, not so fast.

What is conveniently omitted from this heroic story is that the reason the number of polio cases in the U.S. dropped so precipitously following the mass introduction of the Salk vaccine in 1955 was not medical, but rather administrative. Yes it’s true, in 1952 there were 52,879 reported cases of polio in the U.S. And yes, in 1955 the number went down to 28,985, and by 1959 it had dropped to 8,425.3But first of all, it’s important to note that the numbers were already declining significantly prior to the initial use of the Salk vaccine. In 1953, there were 35,592 cases of polio in the U.S.3 So there were other things going on in the U.S. at the time totally unrelated to the Salk vaccine.

More importantly, though, in 1954 the U.S. government simply redefined polio. Yes, the government can do that. It does this kind of stuff occasionally in order to help it meet its public policy objectives when it is unable to actually achieve them. How often have you heard of Congress playing smoke and mirrors, gimmicks with the national budget deficit, or on the issue of the unemployment rate? Exactly.

When it comes to government and public policy, the truth is seldom absolute. That’s just the nature of the beast.

According to Dr. Bernard Greenberg, head of the Department of Biostatistics of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health:

In order to qualify for classification as paralytic poliomyelitis, the patient had to exhibit paralytic symptoms for at least 60 days after the onset of the disease. Prior to 1954, the patient had to exhibit paralytic symptoms for only 24 hours. Laboratory confirmation and the presence of residual paralysis were not required. After 1954, residual paralysis was determined 10 to 20 days and again 50 to 70 days after the onset of the disease. This change in definition meant that in 1955 we started reporting a new disease, namely, paralytic poliomyelitis with a longer lasting paralysis.1

As I wrote in my piece “The Salk ‘Miracle’ Myth“…

Under the new definition of polio, thousands of cases which would have previously been counted as polio would no longer be counted as polio. The change in the definition laid the groundwork for creating the impression that the Salk vaccine was effective.4

So as radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say for decades at the close of each of his charming commentaries, “And now you know… the rest of the story.”


1 James W. Immunization The Reality Behind the Myth. p. 36.
2 About Jonas Salk. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies N.d.
3 The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. U.S. Polio Cases 1952-1962. The History of Vaccines.
4 Cáceres M. The Salk ‘Miracle’ MythThe Vaccine Reaction June 2, 2015.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed two cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1) in the Ukraine. The cases involved a four-year old child and a 10-month old child in the Zakarpatskaya region of southwestern Ukraine. The onset of paralysis occurred on June 30 and July 7, 2015.1 According to the WHO, the emergence of cVDPV1 was due to “inadequate vaccination coverage” in the Ukraine, as “only 50% of children [in the country] were fully immunized against polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.”1

Interestingly, the cVDPV1, which is a rare, mutated form of the poliovirus, is caused by the oral polio vaccine itself. A recent article in The Washington Post by Ariana Eunjung Cha notes:

Oral polio vaccines contain a weakened form of the virus that activates an immune response in the body so that it builds up antibodies to protect itself. But it takes some time for this to happen, and meanwhile the virus replicates in the intestines and can be excreted by the person immunized and can spread to others in the community.2

So the take-away point here—or at least the one that logically might elicit the most concern—should be the fact that people vaccinated against the virus can actually excrete (or “shed”) the virus and infect other people. Of course, this is counter-intuitive, because that would mean that vaccinating people to prevent infectious diseases from spreading might actually have the opposite effect.

Sometimes the weakened vaccine strain live virus can mutate and regain virulence, including neurovirulence, which significantly raises risks of serious complications from vaccine strain virus infection. Healthy persons can suffer complications from vaccine strain viral infection but children and adults with immunodeficiency are more likely to develop complications after they receive live virus vaccines or come in close contact with a person who is shedding vaccine strain live virus.3

Just like people with viral infections can shed and transmit wild-type virus, people given live virus vaccines can shed and transmit vaccine strain live attenuated virus. Like wild-type virus, vaccine strain live virus can be shed in body fluids, such as saliva, nasal and throat secretions, breastmilk, urine and blood, stool, and skin lesions. Shedding after vaccination with live virus vaccines may continue for days, weeks or months, depending upon the vaccine and the health or other individual host factors of the vaccinated person.4

Now, there’s your newsworthy story.

Instead, the story is seemingly being manipulated in a way that attributes the paralysis of the two children, not on the vaccine which led to the cVDPV1, but to the idea that in under-vaccinated populations “the vaccine-virus can circulate for long time, 12 months or longer, and genetically change into a more virulent form that can paralyze.”2  This makes it easier for the WHO and other health authorities to make their case for increasingly higher levels of vaccination. The WHO stresses that the “emergence of cVDPV strains underscores the importance of maintaining high levels of routine vaccination coverage.”1

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has joined the WHO in calling for parents in the Ukraine to vaccinate following the confirmed polio outbreak.5  Remember now, we’re talking about twochildren. Two. An article by the United Nations News Centre references a press release by UNICEF…

‘The only effective way to protect children from polio is vaccination,’ stressed UNICEF’s representative in Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, in a press release. ‘The available vaccines supplied by UNICEF should be used as soon as possible to ensure children are protected from polio in Ukraine.’5

The world’s major media sources are taking their cues directly from the WHO without even bothering to ask the painfully obvious question, “Isn’t it a serious problem when you have vaccines causing viruses to mutate and become more dangerous than the original viruses they were designed to protect against?” The second paragraph of the Reuters story by Tom Miles, for example, reads, “The WHO said Ukraine had been at particular risk of an outbreak because of inadequate vaccination coverage. In 2014, only 50 percent of children were fully immunized against polio and other preventable diseases, it said.”6

The second paragraph of the Associated Press (AP) story reads, “Health officials have warned for years that Ukraine was at risk of a polio epidemic because of low vaccination rates. The supply of vaccine has been spotty because of corruption and inefficiency, and many parents resist vaccinating their children because of fears about the procedure.” Another version goes, “Health officials had warned Ukraine was at high risk of a polio outbreak due to its low vaccination rates; only half of children were immunized against diseases like polio last year.”

So naturally many major newspapers simply reprint this and disseminate it to their audiences, stamping the piece with their own unique headline. There’s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s “Ukraine: sufficient vaccine coming to block polio outbreak.”7  There’s the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s “World Health Organization: 2 polio cases found in Ukraine, caused by mutated virus in vaccine.”8

Then there are those publications like Forbes that actually go to the trouble of writing their own story, using the material provided by the WHO and the AP. They not only repeat the party line within their article, but actually feature it in their headline: “Polio Outbreak In Ukraine Is Grim Reminder Of Need For Continued Vigilance.”9

Predictably, the second paragraph reads:

The outbreak in Ukraine arose from vaccinations in country, World Health Organization spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer explained by email, ‘This strain arose in Ukraine, due to significant vaccination coverage gaps in the country. As many as 50% of children are under- or unimmunized, so there are many susceptible children, and this increases the risk of polio re-emerging or being re-introduced. This further underscores the danger of polio until it is eradicated completely. The best thing countries can do to protect themselves is to maintain high vaccination coverage.’9

To his credit, Donald G. McNeil Jr. of The New York Times started his piece “Polio Paralyzes 2 Children in West Ukraine Outbreak” with a more substantive focus. The third and fourth paragraph go as follows:

The two children, an infant and a 4-year-old, were not paralyzed by the “wild-type virus” that is now known to be circulating only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but by a strain derived from the oral polio vaccine itself.10

The oral vaccine contains three strains of weakened live virus, and very occasionally—the WHO estimates it as once in a million vaccinations—one mutates to become more virulent. Then, like wild virus, it can be shed in feces and spread to others in sewage.10

Ironically, despite the WHO’s confirmation, it’s not even clear yet that the two cases in the Ukraine are polio. A Russia Today (RT) report cites local authorities in the country as denying a “definitive diagnosis” of polio. According to RT:

[The polio diagnosis] ‘was not confirmed’ by medical trials in Kiev and Moscow. Regional officials told Ukrainian media the symptoms only ‘resembled’ polio, but it could in fact be acute flaccid paralysis (AFP), recorded in the region up to five times on a yearly basis.

Thus, it appears the WHO is both emphasizing the wrong point and may be jumping the gun a bit on this story. Meanwhile, the corporate media follows along passively.


1  World Health Organization. Circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus – Ukraine. WHO Sept. 1, 2015.
2  Cha AE. Outbreak of rare, mutated poliovirus that originated from vaccine in Ukraine leaves two children paralyzedThe Washington Post Sept. 2, 2015.
3  Fisher BL. The Emerging Risks of Live Virus & Virus Vectored Vaccines: Vaccine Strain Virus Infection, Shedding & Transmission (p. 12-13). National Vaccine Information Center November 2014.
4  Fisher BL. The Emerging Risks of Live Virus & Virus Vectored Vaccines: Vaccine Strain Virus Infection, Shedding & Transmission (p. 13). National Vaccine Information Center November 2014.
5  Ukraine: UN agencies call for urgent action to stop spread of polio virusUnited Nations News Centre Sept. 4, 2015.
6  Miles T. Ukraine outbreak brings polio back to Europe, WHO saysReuters Sept. 2, 2015.
7  APUkraine: sufficient vaccine coming to block polio outbreakSeattle Post-Intelligencer Sept. 3, 2015.
8  APWorld Health Organization: 2 polio cases found in Ukraine, caused by mutated virus in vaccineMinneapolis Star Tribune Sept. 2, 2015.
9  Thorpe D. Polio Outbreak In Ukraine Is Grim Reminder Of Need For Continued VigilanceForbes Sept. 4, 2015.
10  McNeil DG. Polio Paralyzes 2 Children in West Ukraine OutbreakThe New York Times Sept. 2, 2015.



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