Tragedy When the Polio Vaccine Caused Polio
In what became known as the Cutter Incident, some lots of the polio vaccine (made by Cutter Laboratories) were not completely inactivated. Despite passing required safety tests, the vaccine contained *live* polio virus even though it was supposed to be an inactivated virus vaccine. Cutter withdrew its vaccine from the market on April 27, 1955 after vaccine-associated polio cases were reported.
Over 200,000 children received the inactivated polio vaccine. Of children who received it, 40,000 developed polio, 200 developed paralysis, and 10 were killed.
During mid-April of 1955, about 400,000 people—mostly schoolchildren—in the U.S. were vaccinated with the Salk vaccine manufactured by Cutter Laboratories.6 It turns out that more than 200,000 of these children, living in five western and midwestern states (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico7), were injected with vaccines “in which the process of inactivating the live virus proved to be defective.” The Cutter-produced vaccines ended up causing 40,000 cases of polio. It severely paralyzed 200 children and killed 10.8
The first of these cases to be reported was that of a young girl named Susan Pierce, who had received the vaccine on April 18, 1955.7
Five days later, she developed fever and neck stiffness. Six days later, her left arm was paralyzed. Seven days later, she was placed in an iron lung, and nine days later, she was dead.7