Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Yes, Happy Birthday and Thank You to Jonas Salk

Google's doodle today is the hundred birthday of Jonas Salk who invented the polio vaccine.

He said this (from Slate):

On April 12, 1955, Edward R. Murrow asked Jonas Salk who owned the patent to the polio vaccine. “Well, the people, I would say,” Salk responded. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”

By the time of his chat with Murrow, which aired on the day the polio vaccine was announced as safe and 90 percent effective, Salk was already more messiah than virologist to the average American. Polio paralyzed between 13,000 and 20,000 children annually in the last pre-vaccine years, and Salk was the face of the inoculation initiative. Appearing on television to present the vaccine as a gift to the American people was a public relations masterstroke.

From The Atlantic, "The Anti-Vaccine Movement is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic."

At a time when a single case of Ebola or enterovirus can start a national panic, it’s hard to remember the sheer scale of the polio epidemic. In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.

Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk's new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.

1952 was the peak year.   I know that year because it was the one that my older sister got polio. And was temporarily paralyzed.  And had to stay in a hospital far from home and her family.  And had an operation that gave her back her ability to walk but she was forever weakened.  And my mother, a registered nurse,  lived in fear for her other two children (and herself and my father because what would happen if they, too, got polio).

Thank you, Dr. Salk.  Because although the vaccine came too late for my sister, everyone who came after had the ability to be vaccinated and be safe.  


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