A Monumental Day in the Fight Against Polio

Sixty years ago today, April 12, 1955, Dr. Thomas Francis of the University of Michigan made the announcement that a polio vaccine had been created. The nation immediately celebrated the life-changing news.

If it is difficult now to understand why that was so momentous, credit the vaccine announced that day, and another one revealed soon after. In the United States, polio killed or paralyzed thousands of children every summer. In 1952, the worst year on record, it attacked 58,000 American kids, closing pools and movie theaters, turning streets into ghost towns as families fled crowded cities for sparsely settled summer colonies where they imagined they would be more safe. Around the world, hundreds of thousands more every year were mowed down by it; in societies with few resources to treat the illness or support the disability that followed, they faced a lifetime of mistreatment and poverty.

Scientists had been working on the problem of polio for years, and while millions of vaccinations ended the terror of the disease in the U.S., it took decades to do so. Polio still exists in some parts of the world, and the battle to eradicate it continues. Mary McKenna of the science blog Germination talked to one of the pioneering “polio warriors,” Dr. John Sever. Sever knew both Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin, the inventors of two polio vaccines, and was the founder of Rotary International’s campaign against polio.

John Sever: I was working on a PhD in microbiology and an MD at Northwestern Medical School in the 1950s, so I was aware, of course, of polio. My father had been a practicing physician in the Chicago area, and I had a cousin who had polio paralysis of her legs, so it was very much a personal experience as well as professional. I remember that parents with newborns could buy “polio insurance” against the possibility their child would develop polio, so they could pay for the cost of care. It was on everyone’s mind, that children would be paralyzed and have to be in “iron lungs,” or die.

In the interview, he tells what those early days of polio vaccination were like and how it grew from an emergency measure to a global eradication project. Read the story of the polio breakthrough, and then take a minute to be thankful for the miracle of modern science.

(Image credit: CDC)

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The CIA used an inoculation program in Pakistan to attempt to track down Osama Bin Laden by retaining and DNA testing the blood of children inoculated during that program.


Legendary cancer researcher Alton Oschner's grandson died, and his daughter caught polio from the too early use of polio vaccines, not yet properly and completely tested.


Dr. Bernice Eddy was sanctioned for her discovering that SV40 (simian virus) existed in polio vaccines due to their being cultured on sub human primate kidneys, and that SV40 may cause human soft tissue cancers. These cancers may still be playing out in those inoculated through 1963 when they changed the method of vaccine propagation due to her finding.


Dr. Oschner's colleague Dr. Mary Sherman may have been killed accidentally, or murdered, while researching cancer viruses and attempting to weaponize them.


And into this you may find connection to Dallas on November 22, 1963.


Strange connections, to be sure. Interesting reading, I take no side on the issues and advocate nothing but thoughtful research.
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[quote] In 1952, the worst year on record, it attacked 58,000 American kids, closing pools and movie theaters, turning streets into ghost towns as families fled crowded cities for sparsely settled summer colonies where they imagined they would be more safe. [endquote]

Read that description again. Sounds like something from "28 Days Later" or "The Stand", doesn't it? We live in a world that has all but conquered apocalyptic infectious diseases. We live in 'the future!
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I had a classmate in college (and the college radio station) who had contracted polio as an infant literally weeks before the vaccination became available. Ouch. But he was one of the most positive people I ever knew, even with a partially withered leg that made walking difficult and ungainly and a totally useless arm... well, almost useless. He did play disc jockey at the college radio station where the music was still on discs and was incredibly skillful at "slipcuing" by resting his bad arm's hand on the record while the turntable underneath it came up to speed, then, at the exact instant he wanted to start it, smoothly withdrawing his hand while with his good hand turning the volume on the new record up and the previous record down and off. It sounded seamless. I couldn't get nearly the perfect effect. He didn't become a pro DJ upon graduation; he didn't need to - his family had a packaged-food company and his older brother had just introduced a product line that has made his family name a supermarket staple. (Without his permission, I'm not going to mention it, but he also spoke about how proud he was of his big bro. Again, an incredibly positive guy.)
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