Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was first given to children starting on February 23, 1954 – 59 years ago yesterday. Because of this invention most people in developed countries today don’t have to deal with polio, a viral infection that destroyed muscle, paralyzed, and could kill those who caught it. The most famous survivor being U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
This vaccine was created because there were major outbreaks of polio every summer starting at the beginning of the 20th century, with two very bad outbreaks in the U.S. in the summers of 1952 and 1953. It caused major panic because polio mainly affected small children. Some numbers from the World Health Organization: “Polio cases have decreased by over 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 cases in more than 125 endemic countries then, to 650 reported cases in 2011.”
When you type in “polio vaccine” into Google, it’s surprising how many conspiracy pages pop up in the search results. It’s a shame that in modern times, we’ve forgotten just how scary polio was for parents up until the 1950s. For a good description of what it was like to catch polio and to be treated in an iron lung, try this Atlantic article.