1954: Carbon children are in the front lines in the war against polio
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
While the fight for to keep Carbon College open dominated the headlines in the Sun Advocate in 1954, another fight was going on in the early '50s that many today don't remember. It was the fight against polio.
Polio was a huge problem in the middle of the 20th century. Its complexity and debilitating effects were legend as people wondered who would get it next.
Children were largely the biggest target of the disease. With the fact that President Franklin Roosevelt had been afflicted with the disease since young adulthood, up through the '30s and '40s its prominence in the mind of Americans started to rise. But in the 1950s cases seemed to become more common. The disease, after having run its course, could leave children with everything from a slight limp to being confined to an iron lung for the rest of their lives. Many died from the disease. One of the common questions each year was "Who in the neighborhood is going to get it this year."
Researches worked long and furiously toward finding a way not only to stop the disease but get rid of it entirely. Campaigns were set nationally on how to combat the disease. It was thought that children that were not getting enough sleep were vulnerable to it. Consequently the naps for kindergartners on the floors of their classrooms was common. Cleanliness was also one of the factors, along with a half dozen other things that were suspected of spreading and encouraging the disease.
The mention of polio in the Sun Advocate became more pronounced in the late '40s and into the '50s. It seemed almost every issue had something about polio, either some kind of benefit going on or a story about a local person that was inflicted with the disease. But then things started to change as a new vaccine lifted its veil above the horizon.
In the March 4, 1954 issue of the Sun Advocate, a story reported that Carbon and Emery counties could well be chosen as a test area for the new vaccine. The tests which were to utilize the Salk Polio Vaccine and was being conducted by the Utah State Health Department in cooperation with the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, were proposed to be done on half the first, second and third graders in the area. Half of those would get the vaccine, while the other half would get a substance that looked the same, but would not have the properties of the vaccine. The other half that got no vaccine would be the control group. All this not only needed to be cleared with local health officials but by each child involved in the inoculations parents. In the March 11 edition of the paper it was stated that the had been given the go ahead to be part of the test. The plan was for children to be given three doses over a five week period.
On April 26 the first shot was given a little after 9 a.m. To Margie Ann Atwood.
"...little Margie Ann Atwood, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Woodrow Atwood, Wellington, a first grader at the Wellington school, bravely walked into a sunlit room, had her arm daubbed with disinfectant, then walked over to another desk where Dr. R. Kent Wilson was seated and without any consoling assurances from anyone other than the doctor himself, offered her arm for the first injection in the nationwide polio vaccine test trials program," reported the paper.
All over Carbon County and the nation that day many children faced the same thing. By June the final series of shots were given to the same children. Altogether, 1,442 children in Carbon and Emery counties had been given injections. The health department reported that not one child had received any ill effects from the trials at the time. The effects of the test were to be determined over a couple of years time.
In other news the predecessor of I-70 was dedicated in October as the Salina Canyon Road opened. There had been a road through the canyon before, but the connection with the new Highway 10 through the area would add to the ability of Carbon people to head south toward Richfield, St. George and southern California.
"The new highway culminates over 40 years of effort to get a hard-surface route from Emery to Salina to serve traffic (in) this part of the country and southern Utah," stated the paper in the Oct. 21 issue.
Around election time in early November, when it was learned that Carbon College would survive, the LDS Third Ward chapel was destroyed by fire. Flames reportedly flew 50 feet in the air during the height of the blaze. During the fire five businesses in town were burglarized, with similar forced entry techniques between them, It was found that forced entry into the church building had also taken place and at the time arson was strongly suggested in the $200,000 blaze. The church was only a few years old at the time.
Finally, the new Price Canyon power plant began producing power in November. The plant that had been under planning and construction for five years was up and running, and to this day provides electric power for its present owner, Rocky Mountain Power.