This week we are thankful that many states have opened COVID-19 vaccination to all adults, and supplies of the vaccine seem to be plentiful. The number of cases is trending down, and we are hopeful that this will continue as communities begin to relax restrictions and guidelines for family and public gatherings. COVID-19 has touched us all in so many ways, and these are certainly positive developments!
Friday, March 26, marked 68 years since Dr. Jonas Salk announced a vaccine for polio – a crippling disease that has affected humanity throughout recorded history. The virus that causes polio, poliomyelitis, is easily transmitted – resulting in many epidemics during the first decades of the 20th century. Salk’s announcement in 1953 was the result of research he began in 1948 seeking a successful polio vaccine.
Preliminary testing had begun in 1952 and continued for the next two years. This resulted in one of the largest clinical trials in medical history, in which 1.8 million children were given the vaccine. The vaccine was approved for general use in 1955 and had dramatic results in the United States. In 1952, there were 57,000 polio cases in the U.S., and by 1957 (the first year after the vaccine was widely available) there were less than 6,000. A decade after Salk’s announcement, there were less than 1,000.
The number of polio cases in the 1950’s pales in comparison to COVID-19’s impact today (over 31 million cases and 560,000 deaths in the US). The development, testing and deployment of not one, but several effective COVID-19 vaccines in such a short period of time is truly remarkable. While Salk worked on a polio vaccine for four or five years, he was using a procedure first attempted by Maurice Brodie in the 1930’s – so the polio vaccine took several more years in total.
One major factor in the success of the polio vaccine was the willingness of so many Americans to get vaccinated. Science and technology today have brought about mass production capabilities far superior to methods available in the 1950’s, resulting in a safe and effective supply. By continuing to take precautions (such as masks, hygiene, and social distancing) – and getting the COVID-19 vaccine – we hope to see positive results continue throughout 2021.