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History of Polio Vaccine

Stephen Rampur Jan 28, 2019
The invention of the polio vaccine has been a boon to mankind. Though everyone is aware about the vaccine, few know how and when it was invented...

Did You Know?

There were as many as 350,000 registered cases of polio in the year 1988, which has now come down to just 150 cases in the year 2012.
Polio (poliomyelitis) is a viral infectious disease that spreads from one person to another. It is a contagious disease in which the virus enters the body through the nose or the mouth, and travels to the intestines, and then incubates. It is also called infantile paralysis, which means that infants are more prone to this disease.
Polio paralyzes the basic body features, such as the upper and lower limbs. This disease has been a problem for mankind since ancient times. This fact is confirmed from the ancient Egyptian period, in which men are seen with withered limbs and standing with the help of a stick.
The sufferance caused to an individual from poliomyelitis remains till the very end of his/her life. The most extensive outbreak occurred in the first half of the 20th century, just before the invention of the polio vaccine. From 1940 to 1950, poliomyelitis is said to have paralyzed or killed around half a million people every year, all around the world .

The Epidemic of 1952

During the first half of the 20th century, the government started spreading the knowledge about proper sanitation and hygiene. People came to know about the effectiveness of proper hygienic conditions, which led to the decrease in the number of patients and deaths. Good health was now a dream-come-true for every individual.
However, polio returned with full strength in the epidemic of 1952, with 60,000 registered cases and more than 3,000 deaths in the United States alone. Children were most vulnerable to the disease. Nobody in the country knew how to deal with the situation. Parents panicked and kept their children away from schools and other public facilities.
People were terrified of the disease, which was crippling, paralyzing, and even killing so many. There was complete chaos in the country. Unfortunately, there was no vaccine that could stop or prevent the epidemic.

Invention of the Polio Vaccine

The research to find out the real nature and understanding of polio had started in the first half of the twentieth century itself. A research center was organized to look into the facts and the details of poliomyelitis, which was funded by March of Dimes, a small organization set up with the help of President T.Roosevelt.
The organization took measures to understand much more about poliomyelitis, and the possible methods of creating a new vaccine for it. There were many scientists who had been working on this project. But eventually, it was Dr. Jonas Edward Salk who invented the polio vaccine with the help of his colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Jonas Salk was born on October 28, 1914, in New York City. He started his medical career by studying immunology at the University of Pittsburgh. He began his research on poliomyelitis in the year 1947. In 1949, the method to develop a polio virus in cell culture was discovered. This greatly helped in the experiments that were carried out by Dr. Salk.
With this discovery, the practical use of the vaccine on monkeys was discarded. He had to find a way so that he could use the virus which was less infectious before he could use them in a vaccine. He immunized himself, his wife, and three sons with a polio vaccine made from this 'killed' virus.
As a breakthrough, the individuals who got vaccinated using this test vaccine, started producing antibodies to the deadly disease. In 1952, Dr. Salk was the first to develop a successful vaccine using the combination of three types of viruses. He formulated a process using formalin, a chemical that inactivated the whole virus.

Testing of the Vaccine

One of the major concerns was the testing of this vaccine on people in large numbers. The vaccine was tested on people in the United States and Canada in a major way in the year 1954.
The results were amazing and were a milestone in the research of poliomyelitis. There was a tremendous decline in the cases of polio. With such results, the government decided to let the vaccine go public, so that polio could be eradicated from the country.

Albert Sabin's Polio Vaccine

Albert Sabin, an American medical researcher, was born on August 26, 1906. He is known all over the world for the introduction of the oral polio vaccine. It was in contrast to the vaccine invented by Dr. Salk. The former required an injection, whereas Sabin's vaccine could be administered orally. The new vaccine was made from a 'live' polio virus.
This vaccine is now used worldwide and has eradicated the disease from nearly all over the world, with just a few cases left. Sabin's vaccine was much more resistive to the polio virus than the vaccine developed by Salk.
Salk's vaccine did not function in the intestinal infections, and the virus could still transmit, whereas in the case of Sabin's vaccine, it attacked the virus in the intestines, which was the place for their incubation. Recently, Salk's vaccine has begun to replace Sabin's vaccine in countries like the U.S, where the polio virus has been eradicated.
The vaccines invented by both these scientists have made this world much healthier. Recent research on poliomyelitis shows that it is in its final stage. Let's have a look at the countries which still have a few cases of polio (according to WHO reports).
Countries with Poliomyelitis in 2012

Country ~Number of Patients

Nigeria ~ 90
Pakistan ~ 40
Afghanistan ~ 19
Chad ~ 5
The United Nations has taken up the initiative to free the society from the evils of polio. Polio vaccines are distributed all round the world free of cost. Today, we can stand tall because of the vaccine invented by people like Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, who have made an invaluable contribution to the world of medical science.