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FOR RELEASE: April 12, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Whatever Happened to Polio?

Today, April 12, 2005, is the 50th anniversary of the announcement on April 12, 1955, when results from polio vaccine tests showed that the Salk polio vaccine was safe and effective. Three years earlier in 1952, the U.S. went through the worst polio epidemic in our history, leaving 20,000 people paralyzed. Most of us don’t remember how terrified parents were that polio would leave their children unable to walk or force them to spend the rest of their life in an iron lung. In the 1950s, parents refused to let their children go to movies or go swimming for fear of catching the disease.

How was polio defeated? Polio was defeated in the U.S. by cooperation. It was defeated by Jonas Salk and his team of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh. It was defeated by scientists at the University of Michigan led by Thomas Francis, Jr., who led the testing on volunteers, the “Polio Pioneers,” whose parents had the courage to let their children participate. It was defeated by millions of ordinary Americans who gave their dimes and dollars so that the March of Dimes (then called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis) could fund the development of the Salk vaccine. It was defeated by thousands of health-care workers and lay people who volunteered their time to assist with the vaccine testing. It was defeated by school nurses and parents who made sure every child received the vaccine and continue to make sure every child is vaccinated.

Polio was eliminated in the U.S. because protecting the public’s health was seen as a simple necessity and every effort was made to see that the vaccine would be freely distributed and polio would come to an end.

Now, polio is a memory for most parents in the U.S. The development of the vaccine ended an era of global fear of this contagious disease; yet polio still exists in Asia and Africa and in a shrinking world, polio and other contagious diseases are only a plane ride away. A single infection brought into the country by someone traveling from one of these areas could lead to polio epidemics all over again if we are not protected. That is why we continue to vaccinate!

The last 50 years have given us much to celebrate, but we must remember that there are still children, adolescents, and adults who need the protection that vaccines provide. Infants need vaccines on time, early in life, starting at 2 months of age and continuing through 15 to 18 months. Oklahoma’s infants are behind and are in danger. Oklahoma ranks 44th in the country for the number of children vaccinated on time by age 2 years.

Parents need to know that all children may receive vaccines at county health departments throughout Oklahoma or from private physicians.

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