Today in History: Children Receive First Polio Vaccine

| February 23, 2018

180219_news_219x365I recall my mother saying that the only thing she ever regretted being unable to do was ride a bike, a simple pleasure I well know in life — and one that I take advantage of in commuting. Shortly after I was born, the doctors fused her kneecap, for muscles were deteriorating to a bad extent in one leg, making mobility challenging. Polio was something that my strong, creative mother lived with, as she raised four children and pursued art in its many mediums — and something we, as a family accepted. But it was a hard thing to explain to other kids who were not always shy about asking; friends and classmates grew up, thankfully, with the benefits of vaccine, but had no real conception of the dreadful disease which, decades earlier, forced its worst victims beyond braces or crutches into the “iron lung“. The mere thought of that device made the inability to cycle down a country lane or along the lakefront bike path a trifle in comparison.

On February 23, 1954, children at Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania received he first injections of the polio vaccine, developed by New York born medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk who campaigned for mandatory vaccinations. Poliomyelitis was a highly contagious disease that attacked the nerve cells, caused muscle deterioration, paralysis, and sometimes death, but the new vaccine was highly successful in combatting it, even after a faulty batch led to the death of 200 people.

While traces of the deadly virus still exist in a few countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria Syria), it largely has been eliminated, thanks to continuing world-wide efforts to inoculate.

The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.



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