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Nearly 2 Million Children Participate in Polio Trials that Proved Successful

  • VOA News

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt en route to Washington, D.C. after a week in Hyde Park. November 8, 1935. (photo courtesy of FDR Library Photograph Collection).

Up to this day in 1954 in American history, even a president of the United States, later President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, could be struck down by the debilitating effects of paralysis that is the signature of poliovirus.

The irony is that very few Americans perceived Roosevelt as “handicapped,” according to presidential historians.

On April 26, 1954, hopes were high at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, where an ambitious effort to test a polio vaccine was taking place. 1.8 million American children along with kids from Canada and Finland were enrolled. At the time it was the largest public health experiment in American history.

Less than a year later on April 12, 1955, researchers announced the vaccine was safe and effective. It quickly became a standard part of childhood immunizations in America.

Three toddlers awaiting their turn to be inoculated with gamma globulin, blood fraction in a mass experiment to prevent paralysis from polio in this file photo dated July 2, 1952 in Houston.
Three toddlers awaiting their turn to be inoculated with gamma globulin, blood fraction in a mass experiment to prevent paralysis from polio in this file photo dated July 2, 1952 in Houston.

The last case of naturally occurring polio in the United States happened in 1979. Today, despite a concerted global eradication campaign, poliovirus continues to affect children and adults in Afghanistan, Pakistan and some African countries, including Nigeria.

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