The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 14, 1995 - 3
- The 1955 press release announcing the results of Dr Thomas Francis's field trials.
speak at Rackhant
the century: The
polio vaccine is y
STEPHANIE GRACE LIM/Daily
40 years ago, Salk's announcement
eased fears throughout the world
* the buzz in Rackham
Auditorium grew from a whisper to
cheers of relief on April 12, 1955, the
Michigan Daily's presses began
whirring on the first floor of the
StuSlent Publications Building.
Louis Graff, the media liaison for
Dr. Thomas Francis, rode the elevator
to the media room on the fourth floor of
the Rackham Building. The doors
opened to a mob of 200 journalists
waiting to see the first line of his press
release, which said that the field trials of
the polio vaccine had been successful.
With that news, the world escaped
from the threat of the disease that
paralyzed millions of children with an
unknown method of transmission.
Scientists and reporters crammed
Rackham Auditorium that day for the
invitation-only announcement. Francis
presented his results in a 164-page
report titled: "Evaluation of 1954 Field
Trial of Poliomyelitis Vaccine Sum-
The Daily printed an extra edition
The Daily ran an extra edition
~the morning of April 12, 1955, which
went on sale 10 minutes after the famous
announcement at Rackham Auditorium. With
two stories ready to run, a hand signal to a
staff member at a phone booth sent the word to
the editors, who put the appropriate plates on the
press in the basement of the Student Publications
Building, making the Daily the first newspaper to
report the vaccine's success in the field trials. The text
of the article appears in the box below.
By LEE MARKS Foundation for
Salk vaccine works. University of ~
After months of anticipation, an anx- Financed by
ious world today heard Dr. Thomas Francis, in March of I
Jr. report that the vaccine is between 80 and' report brought t
~90 per cent effective. ion and anxiet
It is absolutely safe. 'I
.Speaking at a meeting of more than 500 One fear voi
scientists and physicians, Dr. Francis outtobeunfoun
tclaimed the vaccine had produced "an ex- "incredibly saf~
tremely successful effect" among bulbar Reactions v
patients in areas whiere vaccine and a harm- only .4 per cen
less substituite had been sued interchange- suffering mino
ably. small per cent (
There is no doubt that the fight against reactions.
polio is nearing an end. Children can defi- A second c
~nitely be inoculated successfully against tection, also
the crippling effects of paralytic polio, Dr. Francis' report
Francis' report proved, maintained witl
Dr. Francis delivered his historic 113 five months," w
page report at a meeting at Rackham Lec- were obtained
ture hall, sponsored jointly by the National 4
EF. ummT I
6i 1 do not want
%ndue emphasis to
be placed on my
contribution. I was
one of many. I
happened to be in
the right place at
%he right time."
April 12, 1995
marking the event.
ment came on the
10th anniversary of
who suffered from
polio and was
paralyzed from the
in 1938 to "lead,
direct and unify"
the march toward a
Infantile Paralysis and the
close to one million dollars
Dimes funds, Dr. Francis'
o an end months of specula-
ced by some scientists turned
ded.The vaccine was termed
were nearly negligible with
t of the vaccinated children
r reactions. An amazingly
'0.004-0.006) suffered major
oncern, persistence of pro-
appeared unfounded. Dr.
declared, "The -effect was
h but moderate decline after
hen good antibody responses
The report showed several significant
auxiliary findings. The vaccine's effective-
ness was more clearly seen when measured
against the more severs cases of.the dis-
Findings in Canada and Finland sup-
port the report, although data was limited.
Only one out 233 inoculated children
developed the disease while eight out of
244 children receiving placebo contracted
the disease from family contact, showing
that the vaccinations protected against fam-
A total of 1013 cases of polio developed
during the study out of.a test group of
Where vaccine was interchanged with
an inert substance, in placebo control areas,
428 out of 749,236 children contracted the
In observed control areas where only
pictures of children's hospital wards
filled with iron lungs are relegated to
museums and textbooks.
Other viruses have come to the
forefront, while the threat of polio in
the United States is confined to the
past. The vaccine has eradicated the
virus in the United States, and there
have been no reported outbreaks since
1979. Salk said at the anniversary
ceremony Wednesday that international
eradication is a realistic goal.
"The eradication of the polio virus
will undoubtedly occur sooner than 40
years from now," he said.
The World Health Organization has
set the year 2000 as its deadline for the
worldwide elimination of polio. The
virus still infects children in developing
countries such as India and nations in
West and Central Africa.
second graders were inoculated, 585 out
of 1,080,680 children developed polio.
Only 33 inoculated children receiving
the complete vaccination series became
paralysed in placebo areas as opposed to
115 children who had not received inocu-
Statistics were similar in observed ar-
eas where 38 cases of polio developed
among inoculated children as against 330
cases of paralysis in uninoculated chil-
Only one child who had been inocu-
lated with vaccine died of polio. The death
followed a tonsillectomy two days after
the second injection of the vaccine in an
area where polio was already prevalent.
Trial areas selected for testing vaccine
turned out to be the best possible. It was
found that there had been a 26 per cent
increase per 100,000 in the polio rate in
trial areas as against no-trial areas.
Complacency about the severity of
the virus has led to a lapse in the
complete vaccination of all children.
Because of this, doctors warn parents
about the possibility of a recurrence of
polio if children are not vaccinated.
Salk said Wednesday it is "unwise"
for anyone in 1995 not to be vaccinated.
"It couldn't be more foolish, when
there is a means of protection," the 80-
year-old virologist said.
Francis's announcement of the
"safe, effective and potent" vaccine
reduced a terrifying disease to one of
history books, pictures and memories.
As crowds packed Rackham Audito-
rium on that 1955 morning, Salk and
Francis said the words the world
wanted to hear, and international relief
accompanied the whirring of presses
and the clamoring of journalists.
the research leading to the vaccine.
The 40th anniversary of what has been
called this century's most important
medical breakthrough was commemo-
rated Wednesday with a ceremony
honoring Jonas Salk, the developer of
the vaccine. The ceremony took place at
10 a.m. at Rackham Auditorium - the
exact time and location of the original
In 1952 alone,, the most severe year
of the epidemic, 57,600 people were
stricken with polio. Most were children.
In 1953, Salk announced his
discovery of a vaccine against the
dreaded virus. The National Foundation
for Infantile Paralysis chose Francis,
chair of epidemiology at the
University's School of Public Health
and Salk's former teacher and col-
league, to run field trials testing the
vaccine's safety and effectiveness.
Francis, a classical research
scientist, ran the trials by his own
guidelines, which included absolute
secrecy from the media and public.
Graff, a science writer for the Univer-
sity News Service, was assigned to
handle the media demands for informa-
tion. If a journalist called the labora-
tory, Francis gave the phone to Graff.
"I was probably the only press agent
who got paid for not getting press,"
Graff said earlier this week.
Francis, who died in 1969, gave
Graff the report on the trials the night
before the announcement, essentially
giving him 24 hours to write a press
release that would be read internation-
ally for years to come.
"I believe I was actually the last
person to get a copy after a year of
working with him," Graff said. "The
feeling I had was almost over-anxious
- here I was supposed to write an
accurate, factual report that the world
would read and have it mimeographed
and stapled within a matter of 24 hours."
The first line of Graff's press
release reads simply, "The vaccine
works. It is safe, effective, and potent."
Bob Considine, a well-known
syndicated columnist at the time, told
Graff he had written the best lead ever
on a medical story. Graff said that
made his stressful night with little sleep
worth the trouble.
"I would not do it again, yet I have
of that report," Graff said.
Graff planned on neatly setting the
release and a summary of the report on
tables in the media room on the fourth
floor of Rackham, but saw his plans
quickly change when the entourage met
a crowd of reporters in the Rackham
garage and then later on the fourth floor.
"We were 14 minutes late getting up
simply because of the crush," he said.
"When the elevator doors opened, there
was a mob of 200 reporters."
As Salk and Francis discussed their
results downstairs, Graff was left in the
midst of the crowd and ended up
standing on top of a table to distribute
the copies of the release.
"We had every intention and the
best of plans to distribute them in an
orderly way," Graff said.
The demand to know the results of the
trials was so intense that the crush to see
the release ruined those plans.
"If Dr. Francis was reading the
report to himself in his bathroom,
reporters would have broken in and
taken it from him," Graff said.
While Graff was still distributing
the release to the national press, the
Daily was already printing a special
edition about the announcement. In
anticipation of the event, Daily reporter
Lee Marks wrote two articles the night
before - one announcing the success
of the trials and another in case the
news was disappointing.