Windham Life and Times – March 20, 2020

Windham Mid-Century Modern

Childhood Vaccines: Polio

If you went to school in America during the early 1960s, then you remember those ubiquitous sugar cubes laced with vaccine that we were served up in a little paper cup in public schools. Polio was a fearsome virus. “Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century than polio did. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives. Polio is the common name for poliomyelitis, which comes from the Greek words for grey and marrow, referring to the spinal cord, and the suffix–itis, meaning inflammation. Poliomyelitis, shortened, became polio. For a time, polio was called infantile paralysis, though it did not affect only the young.” The most famous polio victim was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd. President of the United States.

According to Wikipedia, “The first successful demonstration of a polio vaccine was by Hilary Koprowski in 1950, with a live attenuated virus which people drank. This vaccine, however, was not approved in the United States. An inactivated polio vaccine, developed a few years later by Jonas Salk, came into use in 1955. Another oral polio vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin and came into commercial use in 1961…  During the early 1950s, polio rates in the U.S. were above 25,000 annually; in 1952 and 1953, the U.S. experienced an outbreak of 58,000 and 35,000 polio cases respectively, up from a typical number of 20,000 a year, with deaths in those years numbering 3,200 and 1,400. Amid this U.S. Polio epidemic, millions of dollars were invested in finding and marketing a polio vaccine by commercial interests…”

“In April 1955, soon after mass polio vaccination began in the US, the Surgeon General began to receive reports of patients who contracted paralytic polio about a week after being vaccinated with Salk polio vaccine from Cutter  pharmaceutical company, with the paralysis limited to the limb the vaccine was injected into. In response the Surgeon General pulled all polio vaccine made by Cutter Laboratories from the market, but not before 250 cases of paralytic illness had occurred. Wyeth polio vaccine was also reported to have paralyzed and killed several children. It was soon discovered that some lots of Salk polio vaccine made by Cutter and Wyeth had not been properly inactivated, allowing live poliovirus into more than 100,000 doses of vaccine. In May 1955, the National Institutes of Health and Public Health Services established a Technical Committee on Poliomyelitis Vaccine to test and review all polio vaccine lots and advise the Public Health Service as to which lots should be released for public use. These incidents reduced public confidence in polio vaccine leading to a drop in vaccination rates…Once Sabin’s oral vaccine became widely available, it supplanted Salk’s injected vaccine, which had been tarnished in the public’s opinion by the Cutter incident, in which Salk vaccines prepared by one company resulted in several children dying or becoming paralyzed. ”


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