World Polio Day: High Schoolers Look at the Salk Vaccine Trial

Let’s congratulate a group of Fairview High School (Boulder, Colorado) students who won second place in the senior group documentary category in the annual National History Day competition. Kali, Charlie, Rohith, Jessica, and Jack put together an excellent collection of resources to trace the history of polio in the United States from its emergence as an epidemic disease in the 1890s through the success of the 1954 vaccine trial.

They look at Kolmer’s and Brodie’s ill-fated attempts to develop and test poliovirus vaccines in the mid-1930. They also discuss difficult aspects of the vaccine’s history, such as a reliance on testing in animals and in vulnerable human subjects.

The historic footage the students put together shows treatment of children stricken with paralytic polio, as well as shots of Salk at work in his laboratory, the labs where experimental animals were kept, and scenes from the trial itself.  Audio of an interview with Peter Salk, MD, son of Jonas Salk, MD, is a welcome addition: you don’t often hear his perspective (though you do frequently see the photograph of him receiving his father’s experimental vaccine in 1953).


Salk 1954 Vaccine Trials




To see more videos from and about the competition, visit their YouTube channel.

The next National History Day contest will be held June 2013 – but, if you’re interested in entering a paper, website, performance, documentary, or exhibit, start now, because the program depends on months of primary and secondary source research.  See the National History Day website for more information on the program.