Infectious Diseases

The History of the Polio Vaccine Development



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The history of the polio vaccine development have been a long and controversial one.  Even before the polio vaccine was an idea, a major endemic of the virus occurred in Vermont before the turn of the century, causing the deaths of over 3000 American children; and thereafter, affecting thousands each year.  The research on the polio virus didn't begin until the early 1930s, when a young, brilliant medical student, Jonas Salks, began dissecting the Rhesus Monkey at New York University, the school he attended.

Still, it would take nearly two decades before Salks would have enough data to report his findings, which happened in a 1953 CBS radio broadcast.  And yet, prior to that broadcast, he had injected the polio vaccine into the Rhesus Monkeys forcing the primates to contract cancer.  But in spite of those risk factors, he went ahead and perform his clinical trials on former polio patients, himself and his family.  These human trials didn't have any positive results and so, he set out to run his clinical trials on an even wider scale.

This he did in 1954 at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania, his hometown.  Nearly 2 million American children received the polio vaccine injection, which led to a nationwide campaign against the paralytic and crippling effects, as well as deadly condition of the virus.  Yet, out of that 1.8 million inoculations, only a small percentage were blacks.

This nationwide campaign was supposed to lead to every American child becoming inoculated against the virus before he or she reached the age of 6 or enters the first grade.  However, in April of 1955, when it was announced that the polio vaccine was safe and effective, American black children received yet another raw deal:  They were isolated from the rest of the children while they had to await their impending vaccinations.

Still, this did not dampened Dr. Salks' spirit in his hope of eradicating the virus globally.  He had a rival; one of his esteemed colleagues, Dr. Albert Rabin, based at the Cincinnati Children Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, had developed a vaccine where drops of serum were put into the patient's mouth.  These two doctors would frequently butt heads as they waged their various campaigns to eradicate the polio virus from the globe.

Finally, the polio virus has not been eradicated; there are still countries in Asia, Africa and the third world that have yet to eradicate the virus that once claimed the lives of those innocents strapped to that montrosity, the "Iron Lung."  Yet there is hope that this devastating disease will be completely eradicated before this decade is out.  So there is tremendous hope that this virus will be wiped off the face of the globe indefinitely and hopefully, American children who have had to endure the crippling disease that leads to paralysis will no longer have to face it.  The future looks bright for those children.

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More about this author: Roger Crain

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.history.com/this-day-history/Salk-announces-polio-vaccine
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.npr.org/blog/health/2012/10/16/1626
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/rhesus_monkeys