The Big Mistake: The Cutter Incident

Although the polio vaccine had been tested and had been declare safe and efficient, thirteen days after, a terrible thing happened.

Prior to this, Dr. Salk and a trusted colleague had personally tested every single  batch of the vaccine. But this was no longer possible because the demand for the vaccine was so great. So other laboratories were hired to help. Sadly, two batches from the Cutter Laboratory had live virus in them as the procedure for making the vaccine had not been followed exactly. This  ending up  with devastating results. Many thousands of children were exposed and some became paralyzed as a result, while  others died. Some family members as well as others in the community also died from contacting the virus. Immediately all vaccinations were stopped.

The Cutter Laboratory as well as the company responsible for doing a final check were held responsible as they had been warned of a potential problem which hadn’t been taken seriously. Still this didn’t help those who had lost family members or who contacted polio.

It was devastating for Dr. Salk as he knew that the vaccine was safe. He and his family as well as his team of researchers had all had all been vaccinated before any testing had been done on children.  Also, not one of the  400,000 children tested in the field trial had become sick.

Dr. Salk had not put a patent on his vaccine as he wanted it to be available and free to all who wanted it. He also didn’t want it to be controlled by one big manufacturing company. He had also not wanted the vaccine to be rushed, but unfortunately the American vaccine manufacturers went ahead without there being enough government control, allowing the chance for something to go wrong.  As a result of the accident, the U.S. Public Health Service introduced stricter rules, and there were no further problems.

This could well be a lesson for those working on and producing a vaccine for the COVID19 virus. Many are waiting for a vaccine knowing that this is what is needed to  prevent further spread of the virus. But in the process, every  step must be taken by the creators, manufacturers and those handling the vaccine to ensure its safety.


The Race For a Vaccine

With the race for a vaccine to prevent COVID19, I am  reminded  of the race for a vaccine during the polio epidemic.

Recently, there has been the news that a vaccine may be ready by Jan 2021, which is quite a difference  time line then first predicted.  But make no mistake, it takes a great deal of testing after a vaccine is developed to be sure that it is safe and effective.

During the testing of the polio vaccine, the biggest field trial in medical history took place.  Only first, second and third graders were involved since children that age group were most likely to get polio. The children involved in the experiment were called Polio Pioneers. Getting volunteers for the field trial was not difficult as most parents wanted their children to be vaccinated.  Even though they didn’t know for sure that the  vaccine worked or that it was safe, they  were willing to take the chance as they were terrified of their children contacting the virus. Some children were given the a placebo while others were given the real vaccine.  Families were not told which their children received. It was a long, nervous time waiting for the results.  But on April 12, 1955, the vaccine was declared safe and effective. What a joyous day of celebration that was !

Unfortunately,  thirteen days later the big mistake changed all that. And it was not the fault of the vaccine, Dr. Salk or his team. None-the-less it was a devastating event!

Read my next post to find out what happened.