On this day in 1954, children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the Salk polio vaccine field trials involving 1.8 million children who were inoculated with the polio vaccine.
The trials used the now-standard double-blind method, whereby neither the patient nor attending doctor knew if the inoculation was the vaccine or a placebo.
After the success of the trial inoculation with the polio vaccine became a standard part of childhood immunisations in America. In the ensuing decades, polio vaccines would all but wipe out the highly contagious disease in the Western Hemisphere.
Polio, known officially as poliomyelitis, is an infectious disease which is caused by a virus. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, it had reached epidemic proportions. The disease existed since ancient times, and it occurs most commonly in children resulting in paralysis.
President Franklin Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at the age of 39 and was left paralysed from the waist down. He was forced to use leg braces and a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In 1938, Roosevelt helped found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes. The organisation was responsible for funding much of the research concerning the disease, including the Salk vaccine trials.