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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We Need a Jonas Salk Now... Salks's Polio Vaccine

Marc 26, 1953. Parents of that generation will not forget that day. A man named Jonas Salk announced on a national radio show he had developed a vaccine for polio. We now can imagine what this felt like as there was an epidemic that year with 58,000 cases with more than 300 dying.  But of course this disease known as "infant paralysis" because it attacked the very young left many paralyzed including a 39 year old Franklin Delanor  Roosevelt. And polio was a virus that was transmitted easily and required quarantines and the "iron lung" an early ventilator.

Along comes Jonas Salk a researcher who was awarded a grant to develop a polio vaccine in 1948. His method was not radical but it had been tried before in the 1930s by Maurice Brody without success.  Salk would kill the virus then inject strains into a persons  bloodstream to create the antibodies that would give the person immunity. Salk conducted experiments on himself and his own family and by 1953 he was ready to tell the world he had found the vaccine to stop the horrible scourge of polio.

In 1954 two million school children were inoculated and by 1955 the vaccine was declared safe and effective. A defective vaccine in 1955 almost derailed the program when 200,000 people were injected with the faulty formula and thousands of people became infected. Now polio has virtually been wiped out. Jonas Salk was awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom. We really need a Jonas Salk now. 

Books by William Hazelgrove