Today In History: First Polio Vaccinations

February 24, 2018 | Matt


February 23, 1954

Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as Polio, is an infectious disease that was one of the most serious diseases in the industrialized world during the 20th century. Children were especially at risk of contracting it. In 1952, Jonas Salk and associates developed the first Polio vaccine. It was administered to a small group of people on March 26, 1953 with promising results. Then, on February 23, 1954, the vaccine had its first public administration, to students at Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children.

History of Vaccines

The vaccine underwent large-scale testing in the Francis Field Trial, an enormous medical experiment (the largest ever, at the time) overseen by Thomas Francis. All told, almost two million children participated. The results showed that Salk’s Polio vaccine was highly effective.

In 1955, it was announced that the Salk vaccine was 60-70% effective against poliovirus type 1, 90% effective against poliovirus types 2 and 3, and 94% effective against bulbar polio. The vaccine was licensed the same year, and widespread vaccination campaigns for children were undertaken.

Vaccine Impact

Thanks, in large part, to the promotion efforts of the March of Dimes, the incidence of new Polio infections dropped dramatically. By 1961, the disease was almost an afterthought, with only 161 new cases reported in America.

In 1994, the Americas were declared Polio-free. Europe followed suit in 2002. It remains a problem in some underdeveloped countries.

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