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Polio and Vaccine Development Essay (Critical Writing)

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Poliomyelitis was a severe disease in the United States in the 20th century. That is why numerous American health care professionals tried to find ways of how to protect children from that health issue, and Jonas Salk was among them. The scientist managed to develop a vaccine against polio, but that process implied numerous challenges and essential outcomes in the field of vaccine development. Thus, the principal purpose of the paper is to explain that polio resulted in one of the largest medical trials in American history, while its drawbacks emphasized the necessity of robust regulations in the field.

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To begin with, one should state that polio was a severe threat to the US, affecting numerous citizens. That is why it was decided to organize “a mass nationwide trial, the largest of its kind ever attempted” in 1953 (Warner & Tighe, 2001, p. 452). The trial involved numerous government officials and federal agencies that tried to make the medical experiment the least harmful for society. In an attempt to reach this objective, the Food and Drug Administration only insisted on the necessity to make the test drug safe (Warner & Tighe, 2001). Consequently, this governmental body did not draw any attention to the effectiveness of the medication. Thus, it was required that the vaccine “had to undergo safety tests in three laboratories – the producer’s, Salk’s, and the US Public Health Service’s Division of Biological Control” (Warner & Tighe, 2001, p. 453).

Since the tests above proved that Salk’s vaccine was not harmful, the trials began. According to Warner and Tighe, they involved “more than 1,800,000 children participating” (p. 455). Initially, the vaccine was a tremendous success because it was capable of reducing polio rates among American children. However, some issues emerged in 1955 when children who had received vaccines were infected with polio. The investigation revealed that the Cutter Laboratories in California were responsible for those cases. It was so because they failed to meet safety precautions while producing the vaccine.

The situation above denoted that it was necessary to bring some changes to the field of medical trials and drug production to prevent similar issues from happening in the future. Firstly, the Public Health Service revised requirements for drug production, making them obligatory standards. This step was necessary to control whether pharmaceutical companies produced qualitative medication. Secondly, the polio vaccine failures emphasized the weak role of the federal government in the area of biological control. Thirdly, the case under consideration revealed: “the minuscule legal powers of the Public Health Service, unrevised since 1902” (Warner & Tighe, 2001, p. 457). Finally, polio also indicated that it was obligatory to obtain informed consent from trial participants.

In conclusion, polio resulted in significant changes in the United States. One can say that the nation suffered substantially from the disease, which made scientists consolidate their efforts to address the situation. As a result, large trials began to identify and test an effective vaccine against poliomyelitis. Even though the first consequence of the drug was positive, it revealed some issues and inefficiencies that were present in the American health care and pharmaceutical industries. The case with polio allowed the United States to introduce mandatory standards in the field of drug production and strengthen the role of the government in the medical industry. Thus, one can say that polio contributed to significant advantages when it came to vaccine development.


Warner, J. H., & Tighe, J. A. (2001). Major problems in the history of American medicine and public health: Documents and essays. Houghton Mifflin.

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