Randy Engel
The Salk vaccine and Covid-19 – Lessons never learned, Part II
The early race to conquer polio
By Randy Engel
November 12, 2021


There’s a short 16th century adage – “Live and Learn.” But if the current Covid-19 deadly vaccine fiasco is any indication of what Americans have come to know about the dangers of government and private foundation control of medicine, it is clear they either never learned anything from the “Salk Polio Vaccine Cover-Up,” or, what is perhaps more likely, they never even heard of this tragic tale of medical science and vaccine politics gone awry.

In Part I of this series, I discussed the use of official lies and government propaganda techniques as described by Edward Bernays and Arthur Ponsonby following the end of the World War I.

In Parts II and III of this study, I apply Bernays’ and Ponsonby’s findings on the role of propaganda, aka “public relations,” to the molding and controlling of the public mind, to the specific case of the Salk polio vaccine cover-up in the 1950s.

This retroactive study is largely based on Dr. Herbert Ratner’s classic Child and Family trilogy: “An Untold Vaccine Story,” published in 1980.[1] I trust it will provide a valuable context with which to reevaluate the use and abuse of Covid-19 experimental “vaccines” that are currently flooding the United States and the world especially those directed at infants and children.

But first, let us begin with some important background material on poliomyelitis, also known as infantile paralysis, and the history of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, better known as the National Foundation/March of Dimes.

The Historic Trajectory of Poliomyelitis

From the time of the Egyptian pharaohs until the turn of the 20th century the crippling disease of poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) has haunted humanity albeit as a low incidence disease, and never on the scale of the Bubonic Plague of the mid-14th century or the Spanish Flu (1918-1920).

In the 19th century, with the worldwide improvement of public sanitation, sewage disposal, and the availability of clean water supplies in large urban areas and a renewed interest in public health, the incidence of “polio” declined.[2] In addition, there has always been a high degree of acquired immunity in humans to the poliovirus and there are many natural factors that prevent the occurrence of the disease (as opposed to the infection).

At the turn of the 20th century, there were sporadic episodes of polio breakouts in Europe and the United States which led to a new and expanded interest in the field of virology.

Creation of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation

The Manhattan-based Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research – an arm of the Rockefeller medical monopoly and drug syndicate[3] – established its virology department in 1922, and quickly became a major player in U.S. polio politics.

But, by far, the most important national powerhouse in virology and polio vaccine development was the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1927. Roosevelt was stricken with polio six years earlier, one year after running for Vice President on the Democratic ticket.

With himself as President, his future law partner, attorney Basil “Doc” O’Connor as Treasurer, and Louis Howe, Roosevelt’s political advisor as trustee of the Warm Springs Foundation, Roosevelt set his political ambitions aside for a short while and concentrated on finding treatments and a cure for the crippling disease. At the time, polio was not a major national health concern for Americans or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) or the National Institute of Health (NIH).

However, the fortunes of the Warm Springs Foundation changed dramatically when Roosevelt entered the White House in 1933. Overnight, the Foundation became “the President’s charity.” Now under the leadership of “Doc” O’Connor, the President’s office, raw political patronage, and the services of the United States Post Office were all put at the service of the multi-million dollar Warm Springs Foundation where “charitable contributions” and Democratic “payola” were progressively blurred.

The coast-to-coast Presidential Birthday Parties held on the 30th of January every year (Roosevelt’s birthday) turned the nation’s health spotlight on polio and made the foundation (and the disease) a household name. Initially, funds from these elaborate balls were used to update and expand the Warm Springs’ polio treatment facilities and services, and hire and train medical staff. Later, the Wall Street-dominated Board of Trustees created an independent President’s Birthday Ball Commission to distribute research funds into the causes, treatment, and prevention of paralytic polio.[4] The research director for the Commission was Dr. Paul de Kruif, a world leader in bacteriology, but not virology or immunology, formerly associated with the Rockefeller Institute.[5]

The Deadly Brodie and Kolmer Vaccines

In 1935, the Warm Springs Birthday Ball Commission awarded two key grants in the field of polio vaccine research.

One grant of $65,000 went to support the experimental polio vaccine of Dr. Maurice Brodie of New York University. Brodie’s work was sponsored by Dr. William Hallock Park, Director of the New York City Health Department Research Laboratories. Brodie had been lured to the United States from Canada by Dr. Paul de Kruif, Secretary of the Warm Springs Foundation, with the promise of financial aid to purchase hundreds of rhesus monkeys needed for Brodie’s research.

Brodie harvested the monkeys’ infected spinal cords in order to obtain a sufficient level of live virus to produce an inactivated vaccine. The virus was suspended in a formalin solution–a 31% dilution of formaldehyde[6]–to kill the virus. Theoretically speaking, the resultant inactivated and benign virus that was directly injected into the bloodstream would induce antibodies and grant the patient a degree of immunity from polio.

Unfortunately, in field tests held during the summer of 1935, some 9,000 children received the Brodie vaccine before it was discovered that it was not only ineffective, but it also produced severe allergic reactions. The USPHS reported that at least one child died and three more were paralyzed with polio after receiving the Brodie vaccine.[7]

John Kolmer was one of the nation’s leading microbiologists. He began his polio research in 1932 and in the summer of 1934 injected his [weakened but not killed virus] vaccine into 10,000 children in the U.S. and Canada.

Kolmer’s inadequately tested attenuated poliovirus vaccine was a “witch’s brew” concocted with monkey nerve tissue and an assortment of chemicals and then refrigerated to attenuate the mixture. It killed six children and paralyzed ten.[8]

At a meeting of the American Public Health Association held in November 1935 in St. Louis, with Kolmer and Brodie as speakers, a federal health official named James Leake attacked Brodie, and called Kolmer “a murderer.”[9]

Both vaccines were immediately pulled from distribution; the careers of Brodie and Kolmer were in ruins; the reputations of both the Warm Springs Foundation and its President’s Ball Commission were harmed beyond repair; and the search for a “safe” and “effective” polio vaccine was set back for several decades.

Basil O’Connor Creates the NFIP

After the Brodie-Kolmer debacle, public support for the Warm Springs Foundation and the FDR’s President’s Ball Commission fell precipitously.

Basil O’Connor realized that it was time to divorce the foundation from overt Democratic politics and to establish a more independent and self-sustaining national “volunteer health organization.”

On September 23, 1937, President Roosevelt announced the creation of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP), and appointed O’Connor its first president. Its declared mission was to eradicate polio from the face of the earth.

However, while polio was the top priority for the NFIP, with the exception of sporadic geographical seasonal outbreaks which disappeared as quickly as they appeared, polio remained a low incidence disease in the U.S. By the 1950s, for every known case of paralytic polio there were 1000 cases of subclinical polio infection with a high degree of natural immunity among the general population.

And because it was a low incidence disease, measuring the benefits of a particular experimental polio vaccine was secondary to measuring the risk associated with that vaccine.

Nevertheless, such was the power of the NFIP fear-mongering propaganda machine, that no valid criticism of its research, programs, or policies ever seemed to dampen the American public’s enthusiasm, loyalty, and voluntary financial donations for the NFIP.

In 1954, the annual budget of the NFIP rose from $20 million in 1945 to $60 million.

After all, a million-dollar charity, promoted by a President of the United States, didn’t have to go far to attract influential social and political window dressing of all kinds, including a bevy of Wall Street and corporate officials who sat on its Board of Directors.

It is perhaps one of those quirks of history that the new foundation became the most powerful voluntary health agency in the United States, and “Doc” O’Connor, a lawyer by profession, the most powerful man in American medicine.

Role of Public Relations on Public Health Policies

Basil O’Connor understood, from the beginning, the importance of a large, well-funded public relations department. The NFIP’s continued financial success depended on funds generated by a steady stream of good publicity.

O’Connor recruited the best Madison Avenue ad and public relations people money could buy. They in turn constantly sought to update and refine the NFIP’s public image, especially when unfavorable press, charges of misappropriation of funds, or scandal within the organization threatened that image.

As an adjunct to the foundation’s public relations department, O’Connor hired historians to record the charity’s activities, psychologists to plan their fund-raising activities, and statisticians to plot money curves.[10]

Unfortunately, in the end, public relations became the be all and the end all of a successful program, even when it meant putting the lives and limbs of children at risk. Every failure was pawned off on the gullible and fearful public as a success – a charge that was amply demonstrated by the failure of the NFIP’s little known multi-million dollar gamma globulin-polio vaccine program that preceded the Salk Vaccine scandal by a decade.

The NFIP’s Monopoly on Polio Research

By the 1950s, the NFIP enjoyed a virtual monopoly on polio vaccine research. There was no competition from federal agencies whose priorities were cancer and heart disease. The USPHS and NIH appeared to let the foundation go its own way, if for no other reason than the NFIP appeared to be getting so little return on its polio research investments.[11]

In terms of its medical research policies, the NFIP employed saturation support to the general field of virology together with the specialized field of polio research. There was hardly a top virologist in the nation who was not receiving some financial support in the form of research grants from the foundation. The nation’s top medical universities were so conditioned to receiving generous NFIP research grants and stipends for their faculty for polio research and vaccine development that they now counted on them as part of their regular operating budgets.[12]

The Hammon Pilot Program

Among the best known polio research centers in the U.S. was the Department of Epidemiology and Microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, headed by Dr. William Hammon.[13]

Hammon was a proponent of the use of passive immunization using the blood fraction, gamma globulins (GG) to transfer specific antibodies to the virus on a temporary basis during the polio season. His primary objective was not to prevent polio infection, but to prevent the virus’s pathogenic effects on the nervous system, that is, the clinical disease. As it happens, he was also an outspoken critic of Dr. Jonas Salk’s “inactivated polio vaccine” – Salk being Hammon’s natural rival at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.[14]

In 1950, the NFIP’s Committee on Immunization, that included Salk and Sabin and the eminent Dr. John Franklin Enders,[15] rejected Hammon’s proposal for a massive field trial of immune globulin with a placebo control on the basis that more animal and human data was needed before embarking on an “expensive, complicated, and potentially harmful clinical trial.”[16]

There was also another potential problem, one of public relations, a field in which the NFIP excelled like no other voluntary health association. The burning issue was whether or not Americans were ready to surrender their healthy children by the hundreds of thousands to test a polio vaccine that was, according to medical experts, untested and “potentially harmful?”[17] To ensure that parents would indeed “volunteer” their children to this noble endeavor, the NFIP would need to develop a sophisticated marketing program to promote the Hammon experiment and to ward off any parental anxieties, which it would successfully do. Further, as Hammon would shortly discover much to his amazement, local doctors who would be expected to administer the experimental polio shot viewed their participation in the trials as a “professional duty and a form of public health activism” – an attitude that would prove disastrous in the years ahead.[18]

NFIP Changes Its Mind

In any case, in July 1951, the tide turned in Hammon’s favor when researchers Dr. Dorothy Horstmann of Yale School of Medicine and Dr. David Bodian of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine clinically verified that passively transferred antibodies protected against lethal poliovirus infections in monkeys. Bodian also confirmed that the GG monkey immunizations were effective against all three polio virus strains.[19]

That year, a small scale pilot study to test Hammon’s GG vaccine on 5,000 children was approved and funded by the NFIP. The initial trial site was Provo, Utah, and the surrounding area, which was experiencing a high number of polio cases in the summer of 1951. Within a three-day period, 5,758 children, ages 2 to 8, were inoculated at five locations with encouraging but not conclusive results.[20]

Pressure on the NFIP to find a safe and effective vaccine had become almost unsurmountable when polio hit its peak in the U.S. in 1952 with almost 57,000 cases, 21,000 of them paralytic.[21] For the NFIP it was Hammon or bust!

Following Hannon’s initial Provo trial, additional vaccine campaigns were held in Texas, Iowa, and Nebraska for a total of 54,772 official inoculations. The results showed a significant, albeit temporary, 80% reduction in the total number of paralytic poliomyelitis owing to the GG.[22] Unannounced, was the fact that GG trial data had been seriously compromised by illicit, multiple shots to the same children (to improve the odds that the patient received the GG and not a placebo), and by local physicians who independently administered GG obtained from pharmaceutical houses to their young patients.

However, Hammon and his associates did acknowledge the multiple limitations of GG passive immunization on the nation’s potential pool of 46 million children and adolescents. First, the GG vaccine was very painful and gave only a short and limited immunity up to five weeks, thus annual reinjections were required. Secondly, the onset of polio outbreaks was unpredictable. And most importantly, the cost of GG was extremely high and its availability severely limited nationwide.[23]

By May 1953, Hammon was forced to admit that “the circumstances under which it [GG] is effective are definitely limited and not yet completely defined, and furthermore the agent is in short supply.” He argued strongly against the use of GG in any mass, communitywide application stating that it was a wasteful endeavor.[24] In the end, the GG protocol was limited to institutional breakouts and summer camps.[25]

Nevertheless, NFIP President Basil O’Connor followed the usual public relations script and hailed Hammon’s accomplishment as the greatest step forward in conquering the disease to date. In 1953, the NFIP invested $5.5 million in the Hammon GG project and was expected to spend $19 million the following year.[26]

The latter investment was questioned, however, when a NFIP panel of 17 polio experts assembled to review data on the effectiveness of the 1953 GG program. In a report published in early 1954, the panel concluded that the 1953 mass inoculation trials had failed to produce demonstrably beneficial results, aka, the GG vaccine was not effective.[27] The USPHS and the United Nations World Health Organization reached the same conclusion after studying the 1953 trials data.[28]

Thus after eating up millions of dollars in dimes of the NFIP, the most that could be said about the Hammon GG vaccine was that it did not kill anyone.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of O’Connor’s next medical misadventure – the Salk vaccine(s) – that was anxiously waiting in the wings of the NFPI while the NFIP’s public relations quietly put the Hammon GG vaccine out to pasture. In retrospect, the Salk vaccine turned out to be the ideal diversionary tactic the NFIP needed to take the public eye off the Hammon fiasco.


[1] Part II of this series is based on a lengthy series of reports by Dr. Herbert Ratner (1907-1997) editor of Child and Family, and the Health Commissioner of Oak Park, Illinois for 25 years, on the development of the faulty and dangerous Salk vaccine(s). “The Salk Vaccine – An Untold Story,” was published in 1980. See Dr. Herbert Ratner, MD (whale.to); Polio Perspectives – Edda West – 10/20/2001 (whale.to).

The complete references for the Ratner series are:

“An Untold Vaccine Story,” Child and Family, 1980, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 191-213.

“An Untold Vaccine Story,” Child and Family, 1980, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 259-285.

“An Untold Vaccine Story,” Child and Family, 1980, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 50-75.

“AIDS and Polio Vaccines,” Child and Family, 1988, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 134-158.

[2] See comments by Edda West concerning the increased vulnerability of the upper classes to polio due to less opportunities for acquiring herd immunity enjoyed by the lower classes and to the rejection of breast -feeding by upper class women at Polio Perspectives – Edda West – 10/20/2001 (whale.to).

[3] See Eustace Mullins, Murder by Injection, 1988, National Council for Medical Research, Staunton, VA, 24401.

[4] Randy Engel, The McHugh Chronicles, 1997, p. 42.

[5] Paul A. Offit, M.D., The Cutter Incident, Yale University press, 2005, p.21.

[6] Other sources indicate a dilution rate of only 10%.

[7] Richard Carter, Break-through: The Saga of Jonas Salk, Trident Press, NY, 1966, p.23.

[8] See Jane E. Smith, Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine, Wm. Morrow and Co., NY, 1990, p.72. Smith reported three cases of paralysis associated with the Kolmer vaccine, but the final figure was at least 10.

[9] See The tragic story of a Canadian vaccine trailblazer – Macleans.ca.

[10] Smith, p. 80.

[11] Dr. Herbert Ratner, “The Present Status of the Polio Vaccines, 1960,” Part II, Child and Family, National Commission on Human Life, Reproduction, and Rhythm, Box 508, Oak Park, IL 60303, 1980, Vol. 19, No. 3., p. 250.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Dr. Charles R. Rinaldo, Jr., “Passive Immunization Against Poliomyelitis – The Hammon Gamma Globulin Field Trials, 1951-1953,” AJPH, May 2005 at https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2004.040790.

[14] Rinaldo.

[15] Ibid. In 1949, Enders, Thomas Huckle Weller, and Frederick Chapman Robbins reported successful in vitro culture of an animal viruspoliovirus. The three received the 1954 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Stephen E. Mawdsley, PhD. “The Gamma Globulin for Polio Clinical Trials: Victims of Marketing Success,” published by the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland and funded by the Wellcome Trust. Text available at Microsoft Word – SM Amended Main Document CMAJ FINAL PRINT.doc (strath.ac.uk) .

[18] Ibid.

[19] Rinaldo.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Each lot of GG was obtained from the fractionation of a pool of at least 1000 units of blood plasma or serum, an expensive and time-consuming process. The largest supplier of GG was the Red Cross which depended on voluntary donors.

[24] Rinaldo.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Mawdsley.

© Randy Engel


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Randy Engel

Randy Engel, one of the nation's top investigative reporters, began her journalistic career shortly after her graduation from the University of New York at Cortland, in 1961. A specialist in Vietnamese history and folklore, in 1963, she became the editor of The Vietnam Journal, the official publication of the Vietnam Refugee and Information Services, a national relief program in South Vietnam for war refugees and orphans based in Dayton, Ohio... (more)


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