Organized and funded by the March of Dimes, this was the largest clinical field trial ever undertaken. One year later, the Salk vaccine was declared "safe, potent and effective." Within only a few years, polio rates had dramatically declined in the U.S. Today polio is gone from the Western Hemisphere and the World Health Organization hopes polio will be eliminated from the rest of the world by 2005.
"This is what we as Americans can accomplish when we band together," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president, March of Dimes, in remarks at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Va., the first site where the inoculations were offered on April 26, 1954. Some 1.8 million children, known as Polio Pioneers, in grades one, two and three in 44 states from Maine to California eventually took part in the three-inoculation sequence over the next year; some 4,000 children alone at Franklin Sherman participated in the trials.
"Volunteer support put the threat of polio behind us in 1954, just as volunteer support today is critical in the fight to address premature birth and infant mortality in this country," said Dr. Howse, referring to the foundation's current five-year, $75 million campaign to raise awareness of premature birth as a public health issue, fund research to find its causes, and ultimately prevent babies from being born too soon.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the rate of infant mortality is up for the first time since 1958, and cited prematurity which affects over 470,000 births each year as a major cause of the rise.