Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Slow Burn / – One Year: 1955 – The Cutter Incident

Slow Burn – One Year: 1955 – The Cutter Incident

Share this summary


In this episode of Slow Burn, titled “One Year: 1955 – The Cutter Incident,” the podcast explores the story behind the discovery of the polio vaccine and the subsequent Cutter incident that threatened its success. Driven by personal experiences and a desire to eradicate polio, scientists and researchers worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine that would transform the world. However, a manufacturing mistake by Cutter Laboratories put lives at risk and led to a pivotal moment in vaccine regulation. This episode delves into the challenges faced during the development and distribution of the polio vaccine, highlighting the importance of continuous vaccine safety measures.

Main Takeaways

Dr. Paul Offit’s Childhood Experience and Motivation

  • Dr. Paul Offit’s childhood experience in a children’s hospital with polio-infected children drove him to become a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and vaccines.

The Discovery of the Polio Vaccine

  • The polio vaccine was discovered in 1955 by Dr. Jonas Salk, promising to wipe out the disease that had been crippling and killing children for generations.
  • The vaccine was a major breakthrough in medical history, transforming life around the world and paving the way for the development of other vaccines.

The Cutter Incident

  • The Cutter incident in 1955 threatened to derail the vaccine’s success, as investigators had to figure out what went wrong and convince the public of the vaccine’s safety.
  • Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California made a disastrous mistake that compromised the safety of the vaccine, leading to cases of polio.
  • The incident led to the birth of vaccine regulation in the US, resulting in more stringent regulations by the FDA.

Continuous Vaccine Safety Measures

  • The polio vaccine remains a miracle to this day, but polio is not yet fully eradicated, and the process of ensuring vaccine safety is continuous.
  • Vaccines are victims of their own success, as people forget the dangers of diseases like polio and become complacent about getting vaccinated.


Dr. Jonas Salk’s Breakthrough

Dr. Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine in 1955 was a monumental achievement in medical history. Unlike previous attempts, Salk’s vaccine contained only inactivated or killed virus, making it safer than vaccines made with weakened live virus. Through extensive testing and research, Salk proved that an inactivated virus could induce long-term immunity. His vaccine was tested on a massive scale with 1.8 million children in a study funded by the March of Dimes. Despite initial concerns, Salk’s vaccine showed promising results, and Thomas Francis announced its safety, effectiveness, and potency, marking a historic moment in medical history.

The Cutter Incident and Vaccine Regulation

However, the success of the polio vaccine was marred by the Cutter incident. Cutter Laboratories, one of the manufacturers, made a disastrous mistake during the vaccine’s production, leading to cases of polio. This incident highlighted the need for better safety testing and more stringent criteria for ensuring vaccine safety. The government implemented regulations, and the incident became a turning point in vaccine regulation in the United States. The incident also emphasized the importance of real-world proof of vaccine safety and effectiveness, as outbreaks occurred in those who had not received the recommended three doses of the vaccine.

Continuous Vaccine Safety Measures and Public Perception

While the polio vaccine remains a significant medical achievement, polio is not yet fully eradicated. The process of ensuring vaccine safety is continuous, with ongoing efforts to monitor and improve vaccine production and distribution. However, vaccines can become victims of their own success, as people may forget the dangers of diseases like polio and become complacent about getting vaccinated. It is crucial to maintain public awareness and education about the importance of vaccines and the continued need for immunization.


The discovery of the polio vaccine in 1955 was a remarkable achievement that transformed the lives of millions around the world. However, the Cutter incident served as a reminder of the importance of vaccine safety and the need for stringent regulations. The continuous efforts to ensure vaccine safety and maintain public trust are crucial in the ongoing fight against diseases like polio. The polio vaccine stands as a testament to the power of scientific collaboration, philanthropy, and the determination to protect future generations from devastating diseases.

You might also like