Randy Engel
The Salk Vaccine and Covid-19 – Lessons never learned, Part IV
Government health services push the “big lie”: “The Salk vaccine is safe and effective”
By Randy Engel
November 19, 2021

Reports of Paralysis and Death Begin

On April 25, 1955, the first reported case of paralysis from the Salk vaccine came into the NIH’s Laboratory of Biologics Control (LBC).

Director Workman was informed that an inoculated infant in Chicago had become paralyzed. The next day, April 26, five additional cases were reported – all cases involving the Cutter manufacturers. Workman called his superiors, and a frantic emergency meeting was convened that very night attended by top-level NIH officials including Victor Haas, James Shannon, and Alexander Langmuir of the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) in Atlanta.[1] Langmuir and Workman wanted the Cutter-produced vaccine pulled at once, but their opinion was overridden by those who wanted to wait for more information.

The final verdict was left to the U.S. Surgeon General, Leonard A. Scheele. who decided to get additional input from six experienced polio researchers including Dr. Thomas Francis, who had conducted the 1954 field trial.[2] The consensus appeared to be that Scheele should do something short of calling the whole national vaccine program off, “but short of what?” was the burning question. Interestingly, Salk was not consulted. He learned of the crisis later from the NF.[3]

On April 27, Scheele asked Cutter officials to withdraw all the lots of their vaccine, not only those known to contain live virus. Cutter immediately agreed to a total recall which took place on April 28, but by this time 300,000 youngsters had been inoculated with the Cutter manufactured vaccine in six western states. By way of damage control, Scheele held a Washington D.C. news conference at which he announced that the withdrawal was just a “safety precaution.” He lied again when he stated that the parents of children inoculated in the spring had no cause for alarm.[4] That same day, Scheele called upon the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) founded at the NIH in 1951, to investigate the Cutter/Salk incident.

What the EIS discovered from their initial investigation was that the disease caused by the contaminated vaccine was more deadly than the disease caused by natural polio virus, due to the use of the virulent Mahoney polio strain.

By April 29, within two days of the Cutter recall, the death count had risen to eleven, with fourteen [later 260] cases of paralysis. Among the earliest children to die was two-year-old Eugene Davis, grandson of the renowned surgeon Alton Ochsner.[5] The Cutter/Salk vaccine had become the center of a man-made polio epidemic.[6]

Another secret high ranking NIH meeting was called, chaired by NIH director William Sebrell, to discover what Cutter Labs had done wrong in the manufacturing process of the Salk vaccine. Among those in attendance were Workman, Langmuir, Salk, Shannon, and whistle blower Bernice Eddy. After a day of analysis and discussion there was no evidence-based explanation as to why the contamination occurred. That explanation, however, would come the next day, April 30, when presentations were made by scientists from the pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacturing process – Cutter, Parke-Davis, El Lilly, Wyeth, and later Merck, Sharpe & Dohme.[7] Their combined report upturned the myth that Cutter was the only manufacturer having live virus in their company’s vaccine lots. All had similar problems.

In addition, Bill McLean representing Parke-Davis stated that Salk’s “straight line theory” of deactivation was not validated by their laboratory experience. This statement was confirmed by the Merck, Sharp & Dohme representative who stated that the polio virus could be inactivated fairly easily in relatively small quantities, aka a few hundred or thousand doses, but for large commercial quantities tallying in the millions, the rate of inactivation changed.[8]

Additional secret meetings were held at the NIH on May 5 and 6, 1955.

Obviously, Basil O’Connor at the NF was against suspending the inoculation program. According to Scheele, O’Connor applied relentless pressure on him – “He called me at all hours of the night. And he threatened to have me fired.”[9]

Nevertheless, on May 7, Scheele was forced by mounting paralytic cases to call a “temporary” halt to the manufacturing and distribution of all Salk vaccine (possibly as long as a month), in the United States as well Great Britain, Sweden, West Germany, and South Africa – which amounted to some 3.9 million doses being withheld.[10]

On May 8, the Surgeon General went on national television to explain that the withdrawal of the vaccine pending further investigation was due to specific manufacturing problems of one company [Cutter] – when in fact, all the manufacturers had trouble inactivating the live polio virus. He also failed to inform the public that the government’s safety tests were found to be unreliable.

Scheele’s parting words for that day were, “The Public Health Service has every faith that, within the ever-narrowing limits of human fallibility, the Salk vaccine is safe and effective.”[11]

No doubt, Scheele was walking a fine line.[12] If he had told the American public the whole truth, Americans might start questioning why a flawed and inadequately tested vaccine was ever licensed by the U.S. Public Health Service in the first place![13]

The tragedy was, of course, as Edward Bernays had discovered in 1928, “Why should Government kill a good thing for itself?” Once government cover-ups begin, it almost impossible for them not to continue.

Wyeth Disaster Hushed Up

Evidence that the Wyeth Laboratories also distributed contaminated Salk vaccine is documented in an August 1955 report titled, “The Wyeth Problem: An Epidemiological Analysis of the Occurrence of Poliomyelitis in Association with Certain Lots of Wyeth Vaccine.”[14] The authors of the report, Neal Nathanson and Alexander Langmuir confirmed there were more than thirty cases of paralytic polio including one death resulting from the contamination of three of the four Wyeth lots. Although, the final report was sent to the Directors of all of the NIH agencies and the CDC and Surgeon General offices that were involved in the vaccine investigation, Offit states that:

    It [The Wyeth Problem] was never released to the media, never shown to polio researchers, never shown to the National Foundation, never shown to polio vaccine advisors, never distributed to health care professionals, never published in medical journals, and never made available to defense attorneys in subsequent lawsuits against Cutter Laboratories.[15]

It was not until the Cutter Case went to trial in November 1957 that the cover-up by Wyeth and government health officials of “the Wyeth Problem,” was accidently revealed by Howard Shaughnessy from the Illinois Health Department who testified under oath that Cutter was not alone in having difficulty in producing a true “killed,” vaccine. He then named Wyeth labs.[16]

Jonas Salk did not take the witness stand at the Cutter trial, but gave a deposition to Attorney Melvin Belli. Salk put the total blame on Cutter. In his deposition, Salk denied what every knowledgeable person knew to be true – that the inactivation process was “an industry-wide problem.”[17]

Later, at one of the NIH May 1955 meetings, Salk recalled a face to face confrontation with John Enders who told him, “It is quack medicine to pretend that this is a killed vaccine when you know it has live virus in it. Every batch has live virus in it.” Salk said it was the only time in his life when he felt suicidal.[18]

USPHS Issues New Manufacturing Protocols

The month of May was not so merry for Jonas Salk, the National Foundation, and federal officials connected to the Salk vaccine national campaign.

The USPHS initiated new modifications related to the manufacturing process including extra filtration,[19] and an adjustment in the Formalin temperature and acidity rate. A search for a safer strain of virus to replace the deadly virulent Mahoney strain would soon be undertaken. The USPHS also mandated the reporting by manufacturers to government health offices of live virus found in any lots of the vaccine, and other safety complications.

On May 14, 1955, 1 million doses of polio vaccine were released by the federal government under the new protocols on the belief that the Salk vaccine was better than nothing until something better came along, thus sidestepping the medical principle, “primum non nocere" (“first do no harm”).

On May 24 [May27?], 1955, the national vaccination program was fully restored, but the debates on the safety and potent of the Salk vaccine continued behind closed doors. Legitimate concerns by questioning public health officials were silenced by a continuous flood of media reiterations assuring the clueless public that the vaccine was safe and effective.[20]

On June 9, 1955, Surgeon General Scheele released the first of two official White Papers, which disputed Salk’s “straight line” inactivation theory; condemned the haste with which the March of Dimes, aka, Basil O’Connor, rushed the vaccine to market including the 1954 Francis stage show produced by the NF; and the inadequacy of manufacturers’ reports to government agencies concerning inactivation problems.[21] The first White Paper confirmed that all the manufacturers of the vaccine had difficulties inactivating polio virus.[22]

Congressional Hearings on Polio Vaccines

That same month, from June 22-June 23, 1955, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce headed by Congressman Percy Priest (D-TN)[23] investigated the entire polio vaccine controversy including the Government's handling of the Salk program and the safety of the Salk vaccine. Input was obtained from fifteen medical and scientific experts including Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, John Enders, Tom Francis, and James Shannon. Basil O’Connor defended Salk and the NF.

Nobel Prize winner, Dr Wendell M. Stanley testified to the fact that secrecy and the restriction of pertinent data to a small handful of selected physicians were associated with the Salk vaccine at all stages of development.[24]

Of special note is the unanimous opinion of experts testifying before the Priest Congressional hearings that the highly virulent Mahoney polio virus strain, which remained a component of the “improved” Salk vaccine, be replaced since with it the Salk vaccine was not only a threat to inoculated persons but also caused inoculated persons themselves to become a source of infection to household and community contacts (emphasis added).[25]

Mass Epidemics Spread to Major U.S. Cities

Populated urban areas in Illinois, Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota and Massachusetts were among the hardest hit states during the summer of 1955 and through the summer of 1959. These epidemics occurred after the wide-scale use of the Salk vaccine and were characterized by an uncommon early seasonal onset.[26]

As with the Covid-19 propaganda machine today, various offices in the USPHS cleverly tried to convince Americans that the main culprit in the new polio epidemic was the unvaccinated. But this kind of “double talk” didn’t fly. As Ratner reasoned: “If the Salk vaccine is to take credit for the decline from 1955-1957, how can those individuals who were vaccinated several years ago contribute to the increase in 1958 and1959? Are not these persons still vaccinated?”[27] …“Could it be that the vaccine has been only a temporary stopgap and that the effect is now wearing off because the vaccinated individuals are not maintaining their antibody status through subclinical exposure and booster doses?” Ratner asks.[28]

In the fall of 1955, Dr. Alexander Langmuir (Chief of the Polio Surveillance Department of the USPHS) had predicted that by 1957 there would be less than 100 cases of paralytic polio in the United States. Four years and 300 million doses of Salk vaccine later, we had in 1959 approximately 6,000 cases of paralytic polio, 1,000 of which were in persons who had received three and more shots of the Salk vaccine.[29]

Of special interest was the violent outbreak of type 3 paralytic polio in Massachusetts in the summer of 1959, some 4,000 in which there were more cases of paralytic polio in Salk vaccine triple vaccinates than the unvaccinated. That is, there was a lower incident of paralytic polio in the unvaccinated group.[30]

This raised the question that continues to be with us today in connection with the Covid virus – Do low antigen vaccines desensitize the vaccinate as to make him more susceptible to the virus? In which case, are public health officials doing more harm than good?[31]

Heads Roll at the HEW and NIH

Not surprisingly, by July of 1955, heads began to roll at the federal agencies involved in the Salk scandal. Oveta Culp Hobby, Secretary of HEW resigned; Dr. William Sebrell, Director of the NIH “retired” at the age of 54; and top officials at the National Microbiological Institute and Laboratory of Biologics including William Workman were fired, and the latter agency reorganized as the Division of Biologics Standards.

USPHS Continue to Back Salk Vaccine

Despite ongoing evidence that the Salk vaccine was neither safe nor potent (effective), during the week of November 14-18, 1955, at the meetings of the American Public Health Association in Kansas City, the USPHS, a formerly highly respected agency, released two favorable reports on the current Salk vaccine – one on the 15th stressing the effectiveness of the vaccine and a second report presented by Dr. Scheele on the 17th stressing the safety of the vaccine.

Neither of the reports were true.[32] “… the deceptions, self-deceptions, subterfuges, half-truths and double talk which backers of the vaccine employed in their attempts to keep the Salk vaccine viable [continued] throughout 1955 and thereafter.”[33]

As Dr. Ratner explains:

    The Salk vaccine, then, which we were encouraged to believe is both highly effective and safe on the basis of recent reports, turns out to be, when highly effective, a vaccine that is no longer on the market, and when safe, a vaccine that has yet to make its appearance and clinically prove its effectiveness.[34]

In November of 1955, the USPHS reached a “compromise” on the production of the Salk vaccine which was allowed to continue. However, as noted by Dr. Ratner, faulty batches of the vaccine already on the market were not forced to be withdrawn by the manufacturers.[35] On the contrary, in May 1957, the largest producer of the Salk vaccine in the U.S. was still in possession of several million dollars worth of defective polio vaccine that did not pass the minimum potency requirements of the USPHS. To accommodate the manufacturer and assure subsequent profits, the Division of Biologics Standards “reinterpreted” the minimum requirement so that the warehoused vaccine could be, and was, sold on the open commercial market.[36]

West German Government Confirms Salk Catastrophe

In the April 6, 1956, a 423-page report titled, “An Evaluation of the Protective Immunization Against Poliomyelitis,”[37] was issued by the Scientific Committee of the President of the Ministry of Health of the Federal German Republic. The devastating critical analysis of the 1954 Francis Report and the 1955 Salk vaccine was prepared by seven top West German medical advisors, and published in Munchener Medizinische Wochenschrift. Unfortunately, the report was later suppressed by the West German Minister of the Interior under pressure from the U.S. National Foundation/March of Dimes who sent Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr. and Robert F. Korn, authors of the pro-Salk Francis Report to Germany to “silence” the opposition.[38]

Here is a summary of the West German study’s conclusion:

    So far it is hardly possible to gain insight into the extent of the immunization catastrophe of 1955 in the United States. It may be considered certain that the officially ascertained 200 cases which was caused directly or indirectly by the vaccination constitute minimum figures…. It can hardly be estimated how many of the 1,359 cases among vaccinated persons must be regarded as failures of the vaccine and how many were infected by the vaccine. A careful study of the epidemiologic course of polio in the United States for 1955 yields indications of grave significance. In numerous states of the U.S.A., typical early epidemics developed with the immunization in the spring of 1955 (Italics added)…. “The vaccinations of the year 1955 cannot be exclusively traced back to the failure of one manufacturing firm.”[39]

The authors of the report concluded that the “mass inoculation in the United States in 1955 resulted in what possibly was the greatest ‘catastrophe’ in the history of protective inoculations.”[40]

Shortly after the West German report was issued, two Major Generals of the Occupation, who knew less than zilch of the dangers of the Salk vaccine, reported to the New York Times from Frankfurt, Germany, that the Salk vaccine was “safe and effective.”[41]

Note that West Germany was not the only nation to be concerned about the safety and potency of the Salk vaccine. England cancelled its vaccine program in July 1955; All European nations with the exception of Denmark [even though it found live Mahony virus in the Salk vaccine],discontinued their inoculation programs; and Canada moved its vaccine program to the early part of 1956.[42]

In the U.S., Dr. David E. Price, acting chief of the USPHS, who admitted to not reading the West German report, nevertheless told the Chicago Sunday Tribune on April 15, 1956, that there was “overwhelming evidence” that the Salk vaccine was “safe and effective.”[43]

Thus it was that the U.S. government became the standard bearer of the “BIG LIE” – that the 1955 Salk vaccine was both safe and effective.

As for the National Foundation/March of Dimes, according to Dr. James A. Shannon, Director of the NIH in the fall of 1966 “the decision of the Foundation to throw its resources behind the development of an inactivated vaccine markedly increased the difficulty and greatly protracted the time required to develop the generally accepted polio vaccine (Sabin) we have today.”[44]

But, not to worry. Having successfully managed “The Great Polio Coverup,” the Foundation began to lay plans for its “Great Transition” from polio to eugenics. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Foundation prepared to launch a new and unprecedented national crusade against “birth defects” – and those who have them! The new campaign signaled the start of a 25-year-old war between National Foundation/March of Dimes and the U.S. Prolife Movement which this writer has documented in The McHugh Chronicles (1997).[45]


[1] Richard Carter, Breakthrough: The Saga of Jonas Salk, Pocket Books, 1967, p. 298.

[2] Offit, p. 68.

[3] Carter, p. 301.

[4] Ibid., p. 304.

[5] Offit, p. 81.

[6] Ibid., p. 87.

[7] It is uncertain if Pitman-Moore was represented at this time. Merck, Sharp & Dohme were newcomers.

[8] Ibid., pp. 95-97.

[9] Ibid., p. 99.

[10] Ibid., p. 98.

[11] Carter, p. 314.

[12] Ibid., p. 99.

[13] Carter, p. 307.

[14] Offit, pp. 102-103.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., pp. 140-141. See Gottsdanker v. Cutter Laboratories, District Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District, 1 Civ.18,413 and 18, 414, November 20, 1957-January 31, 1958. Melvin Belli represented polio victim Anna Gottsdanker who testified at the trial. Cutter was represented by Wallace Sedgwick. Cutter was accused of negligence in the production and testing of the Salk vaccine and charged with a breach of warranty – that is, the Salk vaccine was not a “killed” or “inactivated” polio vaccine. Cutter was exonerated on the first count, but made to pay liability damages of $125,000, because live virus found in the “killed” vaccine.

[17] Ibid., p. 137.

[18] Carter, pp. 311-312.

[19] According to Dr. Harold Cox, the addition of a second filtration as an idea pulled out of thin air, since it is the “absolute gospel” that any time you introduce another filtration step, you lose antigen.

[20] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 20, NO.1, p. 53-54.

[21] Carter, pp. 322-323.

[22] Offit, p. 140.

[23] Salk Vaccine Hearings, 84th Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 5599, [and other bills and joint resolutions], May 6 and 13, 1955.

[24] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 19, No. 4, p. 274.

[25] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 20, NO1, pp. 57-58.

[26] Ibid., p. 278.

[27] Ibid., p. 200.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ratner, Vol. 19, No. 3, p. 191-194.

[30] Poliomyelitis :Massachusetts 1959. A mimeographed report of the Mass. State Health Dept, pp. 1-8

[31] The question surrounding the dangers of low potency vaccines was raised by Dr. Harold Cox at the Chicago meeting on the Salk vaccine held on May 26, 1960. The term ADE – antibody disease enhancement has been used in connection with Covid to identify this phenomenon.

[32] Ratner, Child and Family, “Poliomyelitis Vaccine,”1956, pp. 281-285.

[33] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 20, NO1, p.50-51.

[34] Ratner, Child and Family, “Poliomyelitis Vaccine,”1956, p. 283.

[35] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 19, No. 3, p. 209.

[36] Ibid. The reinterpretation of the standards regulations on vaccine potency was issued by Murray R., Director, Division of Biologics Standards on May 17, 1957. (p.213).

[37] Prepared by the following members of the Committee – H. Eyer (Bonn), H. Herken (Berlin), F. Horing (Berlin), H. Pette (Hamburg), G. Seiffert (Munich), E. Traub ( Tubingen), and G. Weber (Munich). See Child and Family, Vol. 20, No. 1, p.55-56.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 19. No. 4., p. 273.

[40] Ratner, Child and Family, Vol. 20, No. 1, p.57.

[41] Ibid., pp. 56-57.

[42] Ibid., p. 62.

[43] Ibid. p. 57.

[44] For the complete text of Shannon’s statement see Child and Family, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 70-75.

[45] Randy Engel, The McHugh Chronicles, 1997. Available from Amazon.com : randy engel.

© 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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