For lots of People in america, the COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced fears we confronted in decades earlier. Not prolonged ago, mothers and fathers throughout the country had been terrified of the probability that their children could deal the polio virus.  

I needed to talk about the eradication of polio – and the man or woman dependable for producing its vaccine – on my newest episode of Newt’s Earth, mainly because I assume the history of polio is practical for comprehending and eventually eradicating COVID-19.  

Polio was a paralyzing disease that mostly affected children. In several techniques, COVID-19 and polio present similar troubles.  


Like polio, COVID-19 is a very contagious virus that can be deadly. But even though COVID-19 enters the lungs by means of airborne particles, polio entered the body by means of the gastrointestinal tract, normally by using contaminated h2o. 

The 1st major polio epidemic in the United States strike Vermont in 1894 with 132 cases. A much larger outbreak struck New York Metropolis in 1916, with extra than 27,000 scenarios and 6,000 fatalities. 

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In 1921, Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio, and lived with paralysis for the relaxation of his life – shelling out a fantastic deal of time in Warm Springs, Ga, to assistance cope with his paralysis. A few a long time later on, polio experienced turn out to be one particular of the most really serious communicable illnesses between young children in the United States.  

In fact, in 1946, President Harry Truman, who served with Roosevelt, declared polio a danger to the United States and called on People to do every little thing probable to fight it, expressing: 

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“The combat in opposition to infantile paralysis simply cannot be a area war. It must be nationwide. It have to be overall war in each and every city, town and village during the land. For only with a united entrance can we ever hope to acquire any war.” 

By 1952, approximately 60,000 small children have been contaminated with the virus – and countless numbers were paralyzed. Extra than 3,000 youngsters died. Hospitals set up exclusive models with iron lung equipment to hold polio victims alive. Like COVID-19, people of all socioeconomic levels were affected by the scourge of polio.  

It’s against this backdrop that Dr. Jonas Salk and his investigation crew at the University of Pittsburgh, launched what was at the time the biggest human vaccine demo in heritage, injecting approximately 2 million American young ones with a opportunity vaccine.   

Salk offered an early product for nationwide vaccine deployment that has shaped our epidemic responses.

On April 12, 1955, Salk and his team released the first productive vaccine for polio. Cases declined sharply pursuing the introduction of vaccine to fewer than 1,000 scenarios in 1962 and remained underneath 100 cases following that yr. By 1979, the United States claimed its final scenario of the paralyzing virus. 

America’s capacity to defeat polio through huge-scale, quickly implemented vaccine tests and trials is analogous with our recent effort and hard work to defeat COVID-19. In a lot of ways, Salk furnished an early design for nationwide vaccine deployment that has formed our epidemic responses – and saved many lives.  

A single of the a lot more remarkable elements of Salk’s tale is that he never patented the vaccine or acquired any revenue from his discovery. He preferred that it be dispersed as extensively as achievable. When reporters later on asked him why he chose to give his do the job absent, he just requested, “could you patent the sunlight?” 

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Salk is a accurate Immortal of American historical past, and I hope you will acquire time to listen to this week’s episode to learn additional about him and his energy.  

Thanks to the work of Dr. Salk, we created a vaccine that eventually eradicated polio. And it is on his shoulders that the scientists of nowadays stand to eventually defeat COVID-19. 

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