Medicine: Closing in on Polio

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A year ago this week, Dr. Salk described his encouraging results in a nationwide CBS broadcast titled "The Scientist Speaks for Himself." Fellow scientists mistook his motives and criticized him for not confining his reports to professiona! journals. And they have kept on criticizing him ever since, softly in public but loudly in private, for being a young man in a hurry. In his files are masses of data to support the conclusions he has announced. But Dr. Salk has not taken the time to work up more than a fraction of these data for publication. A cautious Yankee with long years of experience with viruses and vaccines objects: "We want Salk to show us, not tell us."

However, the haste to put on the mass-inoculation trials this year originates in the National Foundation. Its President Basil O'Connor, onetime law partner of history's most famed polio victim, Franklin D. Roosevelt, argues that the foundation has as great an obligation not to delay unduly the use of a serviceable vaccine as it has not to rush one to trial too soon. But the hurry-up has caused plenty of trouble within the foundation. It was partly responsible for the fact that Dr. Harry Weaver, a human dynamo who had directed its research program for seven years and worked out the "monkey airlift," left last summer. Along with disagreement over technical details, it was to blame for the walkout by Dr. Joseph A. Bell, after he had taken leave from the Public Health Service to supervise the trials for the foundation.

The Assured Gamble. Now the foundation has played an ace. It has persuaded Dr. Francis to evaluate the results of the trial. He is no man to be influenced by foundation pressure or fondness for his protege, Dr. Salk. And he dictated the terms before he took the job. So instead of the foundation's original plan to vaccinate all second-grade youngsters in a test area and leave the first-and third-graders unvaccinated as controls, twelve states will have a more precisely controlled setup. Children in the first three grades will be inoculated, but half will get the vaccine and half an inert liquid or placebo. And nobody will know—until Dr. Francis and his assistants at Ann Arbor decode the numbers—who got which.

Whatever is done this year, many polio experts will not be satisfied. Some do not believe that a killed-virus vaccine can be as effective as one made from live virus that has been "attenuated" or adapted so that it has lost its power to cause disease. Prominent among these is Cincinnati's Dr. Albert Sabin, who believes he is well on the way to producing such strains of virus and also has hopes of finding them in nature. A killed vaccine, he argues, may give immunity for only a year or a few years, so repeated shots would be needed, whereas a live vaccine is more likely to give lifelong immunity.

At Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital, Drs. Albert Milzer and Sidney Levinson have developed a vaccine similar to Salk's except that the virus is killed by ultraviolet radiation. This, they believe, does less damage to the virus particles than formaldehyde, and so produces a more potent vaccine. So far, they have inoculated 30 volunteers, with no ill effects and with good antibody response. But they would not be ready for a mass trial of their vaccine for another year.

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