Marco Cáceres di Iorio

The Salk Polio Vaccine “Tragedy”

all those unfortunate polio pioneers

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.


16 Responses to “The Salk Polio Vaccine “Tragedy””

  1. Clayton Van Daele

    What are most brilliantly effective article. There is however one fact that comes to mind in the recent past referring to the polio vaccine and vaccination. In India during the Gandhi regime the female Gandhi that is. NPR recently announced I believe in the recent past within two years that the government of India was offering free vaccination for polio they had stated to the northern regions in India for the betterment of their health however it was discovered that they were actually sterilizing the Muslim population of India. It’s an amazing world we live in but what is more amazing is that people are educating themselves more and more and their absolute desire and want for qualified accurate information is pleasing to me it enables humans to make qualified decisions for themselves and for their loved ones. May God’s hand be honest all.


  2. marytormey

    Me and my brother both got the vaccine. He stopped talking. I have what would appear to be post polio syndrome on my left side after years of living with medical industry munchausen, I have been poisoned and denied basic rights. I lack motor skills and need a special diet. Please take the money out of the making people disabled fund and put it into the supporting disabled people fund…Sandpoint was not experiencing a polio epidemic, this was done for profit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tracey Northern

    Still not an accurate ‘history’. It fails to mention the real link to and cause of polio. PESTICIDES. A virus cannot be ‘killed’ as it was never ‘alive’ in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • annj49

      @Tracey Northern. I wish you would elaborate on the matter of the pesticide and live/dead virus. Though I am basically anti vaccine, I like to hear as many sides of the info as possible.


      • Joie

        Do a google image search on ddt and polio and you will see that the approval of ddt and then when it was stopped exact mirrors the huge polio outbreak. The charts are on google.


  4. Sue Jacobs

    Was the Polio vaccine also given to South African children in 1954?
    I ask this because this was the year of my birth and this was also the year that my sister aged 13 and my brother aged 11 both contracted Polio. They were the first 2 cases of an epidemic throughout our country in that year. By the time doctors realised that this was polio my mother and grandmother had successfully nursed them through the worst and they survived, but many children did not. My sister was left with a curvature of the spine and my brother was left with a heart murmur. My other brother – 6yrs older than me and I never got Polio. He had not started school yet.


    • Neil

      Yes, most definitely, my mother was given the vaccine and got polio after getting the vaccine. She was in a very little town far away in Northern Natal. Try to find out if u had the vac before , chances are


  5. CFS Facts

    Three decades later, they did the same thing with a related disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.
    Disability did not want to deal with more long-term disabilities that soon after AIDS put a strain on the system, so political motivations caused them to eliminate Myalgic Encephalomyelitis by executive fiat, and re-title it with the minimizing name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which doesn’t even begin to hint at the polio-like paralytic muscle weakness and severe neurological problems. Now those who doled out Disability benefits could just laugh at the notion that this applicant was truly disabled and suggest they could cure themselves with a little more sleep, and that the problem was all in our heads.
    Dr. Elizabeth Dowsett noted that when they re-named ME to CFS, all connection to the prior decades of research and knowledge disappeared. They could now claim this was a new disease about which nothing was known, and make statements about how patients were just lazy or crazy, exaggerating or imagining symptoms, and could be cured with a kick in the butt or some talk therapy.
    The first doctor I saw tried to tell me that there was no way I could still have symptoms from a virus 9 months earlier (guess he never heard of lifelong effects from viruses like polio, herpes, and HIV….) and insisted that there were no objective symptoms (despite everyone in my office having observed some of them), it’s all subjective and therefore I’m a hypochondriac imagining things because I don’t want to work, now go see a psychiatrist (and another and another, until one finally says what the doctor wants to hear).
    One of the psychiatrists sent a letter pointing out that he had also gone to medical school and MD-to-MD, the symptoms this patient describes are those of a physical illness, likely a virus, rather than a psychological problem. My doctor’s response? Go see another shrink, this one didn’t agree with me.


  6. Peggy Hicks

    I was part of the Salk vaccine testing before it was released for the rest of the population. I never had any side effects from the vaccine, & am nearly 69 years old. Polio is a horrendous disease. It doesn’t just render its victims unable to walk. If it’s a severe case, its victims can spend the rest of their lives in an iron lung. I’m glad I was vaccinated, & would do it again.


  7. Adamized

    Rampant Psycopaths playing genetic laboratory games with our precious children for 3 generations now. Take a good look at that B&W photograph, & someone tell me the last time you saw that many bright smiles standing in a row. Now that all the children are bloated with vaccines, their best attempt at facial expression approximating a pallid- faced zombie. Wouldn’t surprise me if the same Psycopaths are now designing multiple vaccines that make children artificially hyper-emotional & crazy-disney-happy-faced.



      Adamized So true. I look around at the children of today and so many faces show signs that they have suffered a stroke and they have no physical stamina. That picture you spoke of is my generation and I can attest to the fact that we were very healthy, very active and vibrant. I firmly believe that we are the last generation of healthy children.


  8. BP

    In the 1950’s there were tens of thousands of cases of polio in the US, and it was accelerating. This was before the vaccine, before any supposed tampering with medical data. Since 1979 there have been 0 cases. You do the math. The vaccine worked, its undeniable.

    There are fewer cases of polio in the entire world today than there were in NYC in 1955. Most of them are vaccine derived, except in India and Pakistan where religious leaders refuse to allow vaccination. If those two hot spots could be wiped out of wild virus, that would be the end of it. OPV gets phased to IPV which has such a low rate of infection it’s now nearly immeasurable. Eventually the vaccinations could stop as was done with smallpox. When the vaccine isn’t needed, it can be withdrawn.

    Yes vaccines have risks, and yes if you are the unlucky one in a million (for OPV) who contracts polio, that is a terrible consequence. Let’s not lose sight of the good that has been done. Without vaccines, smallpox and the flu would probably have killed us all by now before polio ever got a chance. In 1918 the flu killed upwards of 100 million people due to a particularly bad mutation. That was 10% of the population of the earth!



      The Flu epidemic of 1918 was caused by a Flu bacterium given the horses shipped from the USA to France. The Flu bacterium was given to the soldier also, many of who died from the Flu before ever shipping out to the front. After the war, there was a surplus of the Flu vaccine left over, it was deemed a Patriot gesture to receive a Flu shot. It is interesting how the majority of people who did not get the Flu were children and seniors. But, then they were excluded from the the program. The Smallpox epidemics we have heard of in the late 1700’s and 1800’s were caused by Jenner’s Smallpox vaccine. History is written by the powerful and victorious and they lie!



    This is my generation they are speaking of. Sabin’s oral Polio vaccine was introduced in late 1962. My siblings and I received 4 doses of oral Polio. The first two doses we received as in the Autumn of 1962 and the 3rd (to which I reacted) and 4th were given us in January and March of 1963.



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