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Medicine: Vaccine Verdict

2 minute read

How good is the Salk polio vaccine? So far, nobody knows the answer in detail, but there is enough evidence to show that the vaccine works on the great majority of subjects.

At the University of Michigan, 144 million facts yielded by last year’s nation-wide tests have been recorded on IBM punch cards, but they are still so divided that no individual worker last week could see the answer. This had to wait until the boss evaluator, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr., gave the word to run all the cards through the machine. But the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis tipped its hand when it set April 12 for Dr. Francis to announce his findings. That is the tenth anniversary of the death of polio’s most famed victim, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the foundation would hardly have picked that date to break bad news. Parke, Davis & Co. loosed other straws that showed the wind was blowing toward a favorable report: it staged a celebration in Joliet, Ill., where townspeople had cooperated in a small-scale test of vaccine manufactured by the Detroit drug house.

Parke, Davis also announced that on May 1 it would begin manufacturing the vaccine for sale to physicians, since by then the company will have fulfilled its quota for the National Foundation. (The three-shot series of vaccinations will sell for $6, to which doctors can add a fee for giving the injections.) Five other manufacturers have virtually finished making their share of the vaccine that the foundation ordered for its $9,000,000 bet in the winter book. Most will also be ready with shots for private sale as soon as they can get approval from the federal Laboratory of Biologies Control—which can be expected within hours after Dr. Francis announces his verdict.

Newspapers last week broke out in banner lines such as the New York World-Telegram and Sun’s SALK SHOTS PREVENTED POLIO IN EVERY U.S. CHILD TESTED. This assertion was patently wrong, for in at least four states where there was no doubt that children got the real vaccine (no dummy shots) health officers admitted that some of the vaccinated had developed polio, including some paralytic cases. How many there were among the 440,000 children in 44 states—or how much the vaccine fell short of 100% success—was still the secret of Dr. Francis’ IBM cards.

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