The Polio Vaccine

The Polio Vaccine

Doctors make medical breakthroughs all the time. But some are bigger than others and one was bigger than most. It was the vaccine that ended the terror of polio. Frequently contracted at this time of year. But what was it like in St. Louis before the virus was vanquished?It was terrifying. Before the polio vaccine the virus would leave a healthy person weak or paralyzed and in excruciating pain in a matter of hours."Summertime was full of terror for parents. In 1952 for instance, 57,000 mainly children came down with polio and generally during the summer months July, August a little bit of June, September and you still see people suffering the effects of having had the disease. It was terrifying." Robert Archibald - Missouri History MuseumThe iron lung was a metal tube which air pressure to inflate and deflate the lungs of paralyzed patients. And it was a miserable existence."Being confined in this long metal tube for days at a time not really being able to have any human contact. Not being able to move much, it seemed like the most awful thing that could conceivably happen." Robert ArchibaldBut then the most wonderful thing anyone could conceive of happened. In 1952 Jonas Salk developed an effective vaccine and by 1954 children were lined up everywhere to get it."It was an extraordinary vaccine followed a few years later by an oral polio vaccine but it immediately alleviated that terror that parents had about their children during the summertime and those awful images that we all saw of children in iron lungs, children who are on crutches, children with withered limbs which are vivid memories for anyone who grew up before the first polio vaccines were available."Though the disease has been for the most part eradicated one vestige still remains, the March of Dimes. Started by President Franklin Roosevelt who was himself a victim of polio.

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