By Stephen Pate – After World War I, summers in North America and Europe were a mother’s worst nightmare when too many children were stricken with the dreaded Polio disease.
The pioneering research by Dr. Jonas Salk, sponsored by the March of Dimes, created a vaccine that immunized children from Polio. By 1955, the vaccine began to end the summer threat.
Dr. Salk discovered the first successful vaccine for Polio and his discovery saved millions of children from the life long effects of polio.
The Salk vaccine was first used in mass quantities in 1955 in Canada on the orders of Health Minister Paul Martin Sr. after the US vaccine was discovered to contain live Polio virus. The US introduced the Salk vaccine in 1957.
Before the virus, more than 4,000 US cases of paralytic Polio occurred each year. Actually scientists now believe that the Polio virus infected 100% of the North American population in a mild 1-2 day infection called “summer influenza.” Paralysis was rare and death from Polio even rarer but the survivors were left with permanent weakness and paralysis of limbs and chest.
I contracted paralytic Polio in 1951 and with rehab was able to walk with a leg brace. Eventually I gave up the leg brace and walked unaided.
In the 1990’s I was fortunate to visit the San Diego lab where Dr. Salk continued his research after Pittsburg. My notation in the guest book said “You were a little late for me but thanks for all children.”
Polio has a nasty boomerang in mid-life called the late effects of Polio when the survivors develop new symptoms of pain, muscle weakness and other neuromuscular problems, called Post Polio Syndrome. PPS is neither contagious nor is it curable.
I have PPS since age 50 when I got weaker and had to use a wheelchair again. PPS results in a the progression of lowered capacity but is not considered fatal.
Rotary Clubs around the world work with UNICEF and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio world-wide. In 1988 there were 350,000 worldwide cases of paralytic polio. By 2010, Polio Plus helped reduce that to 1,500 cases in the entire world. Give a little to help them if you can – Donate – or participate in fund raising with Rotarians everywhere.
Except for countries where they are banned by fundamentalist Muslims, Polio Plus has almost eliminated polio as a childhood disease.
Wikipedia – Jonas Edward Salk (/sɔːlk/; October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed the first successful inactivated polio vaccine. He was born in New York City to Jewish parents.
Although they had little formal education, his parents were determined to see their children succeed. While attending New York University School of Medicine, Salk stood out from his peers, not just because of his academic prowess, but because he went into medical research instead of becoming a practicing physician.
Until 1957, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the post-war United States.
Annual epidemics were increasingly devastating. The 1952 epidemic was the worst outbreak in the nation’s history. Of nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis, with most of its victims being children.
According to a 2009 PBS documentary, “Apart from the atomic bomb, America’s greatest fear was polio.”
As a result, scientists were in a frantic race to find a way to prevent or cure the disease. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt was the world’s most recognized victim of the disease and founded the organization, the March of Dimes Foundation, that would fund the development of a vaccine.
In 1947, Salk accepted an appointment to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 1948, he undertook a project funded by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to determine the number of different types of polio virus.
Salk saw an opportunity to extend this project towards developing a vaccine against polio, and, together with the skilled research team he assembled, devoted himself to this work for the next seven years.
The field trial set up to test the Salk vaccine was, according to O’Neill, “the most elaborate program of its kind in history, involving 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers.” Over 1,800,000 school children took part in the trial.
When news of the vaccine’s success was made public on April 12, 1955, Salk was hailed as a “miracle worker” and the day almost became a national holiday. His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit.
When asked who owned the patent to it, Salk said “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” The vaccine is calculated to be worth $7 billion had it been patented.
In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, which is today a center for medical and scientific research. He continued to conduct research and publish books, including Man Unfolding (197), The Survival of the Wisest (1973), World Population and Human Values: A New Reality (1981), and Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983). Salk’s last years were spent searching for a vaccine against HIV. His personal papers are stored at the University of California, San Diego Library.
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By Stephen Pate, NJN Network