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Polio Pioneers

The Polio Pioneers have been described as “the largest clinical trial in history.”

It was led by Thomas Francis Jr.

The blinded trial involved 1.3 million children in elementary school, grades 1 to 3, who either got Salk‘s inactivated polio shot, a saline placebo, or were observed control subjects.

Randall Kerr is said to be the first Polio Pioneer, getting a polio shot (or a placebo), at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia on April 26, 1954.

Children lined up for their shots in 44 states, with very few failing to get all three shots over the course of the trial, which continued until July 10, 1954.Upon getting their third shot, kids got a Polio Pioneers button and card, which many still have today.

The results of the trial, that Salk’s vaccine work, was reported on April 12, 1955.

How did people react to the news?

The success of the Polio Pioneers trial made front headlines in major newspapers.

It is said the Salk’s mother wept when she heard the news.

Mrs. Roosevelt, who was observing the ten year anniversary of FDR’s death, said that she was “delighted” about the success of the Polio Pioneers trial.

Routine vaccination with the Salk polio vaccine began soon after, on April 25, 1955.

Polio Pioneer Reunions

Although more than a few Polio Pioneers have gone online to coment on their experiences, in 2003, Ben Wechsler got the idea for a big reunion.

A former Polio Pioneer who had become the director of the Pittsburgh East Rotary Club (a club that works to end polio around the world), he found a box of microfilm that Dr. Thomas Francis had left to the medical history library at the University of Michigan and found the names of all of the original Polio Pioneers.

He then set out to find them…

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