Here is a “where were you when you heard the news” moment in human history:
The announcement was made at the University of Michigan, exactly 10 years to the day after the death of President Roosevelt. Five hundred people, including 150 press, radio, and television reporters, filled the room; 16 television and newsreel cameras stood on a long platform at the back; and 54,000 physicians, sitting in movie theaters across the country, watched the broadcast on closed-circuit television. Eli Lilly and Company paid $250,000 to broadcast the event. Americans turned on their radios to hear the details, department stores set up loudspeakers, and judges suspended trials so that everyone in the courtroom could hear. Europeans listened on the Voice of America.
Nearly 60 years ago, University of Pittsburgh physician Jonas Salk, M.D. announced the results of his research on the first polio vaccine:
“The presentation was numbing, but the results were clear: the vaccine worked. Inside the auditorium Americans tearfully and joyfully embraced the results. By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: Thank you, Dr. Salk. ‘It was as if a war had ended’, one observer recalled.”
Laura Stampler reminds us what a worldwide scourge polio had become:
The Washington Post reports that according to the Salk Institute, “In the two years before [the] vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910.”
The polio vaccine was a miracle that people the world over celebrated. Dr. Salk was a hero:
According to O’Neill, “April 12th had almost become a national holiday: people observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factory whistles, fired salutes, kept their red lights red in brief periods of tribute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervid assemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled at strangers, and forgave enemies.”
By July, movie studios were already fighting for the motion-picture rights to his film biography. Twentieth Century-Fox began writing a screenplay and Warner Brothers filed a claim to the title The Triumph of Dr. Jonas Salk shortly after the formal announcement of the vaccine.
It boggles the mind that even though polio still exists and can still be transported across borders on this small planet, some parents today refuse — refuse! — to immunize their children against it. Every excuse they come up with has been thoroughly discredited and debunked through careful scientific research and common sense.
Vaccines are not 100% effective for everyone, and they are not 100% safe either. But they are pretty close. That’s good enough for me as a pediatrician, and as a father.
(Back Pat: Rachel Lore)
(Image: “Google Doodle Celebrates Jonas Salk, Scientist Behind Polio Vaccine”/ Time.com)