Remember those heart-breaking iron braces on little legs?
50 years ago today, on April 12, 1955, the success and availability of the Salk polio vaccine was announced to a world full of mothers and fathers living in constant fear that their children might be polio victims. I was born in 1954. I remember screaming my head off after getting a polio shot, at a local chapel, when I was very small. I also remember waiting in line at the local high school to take the oral Sabin vaccine-- administered by dropping the liquid onto a sugar cube. (I thought that was a much better way to take medicine.)
Here's a time line showing the steady progress against the disease. No "wild polio" has been reported in the USA in 20 years. Most of us (including me) tend to take this for granted. As I heard this anniversary commemorated on radio news programs while driving in to work today, I felt a surge of gratitude to those who made it possible for me to grow up in a polio-free world, and I marveled that as a parent today the scourge of poliomyelitis does not occupy my thoughts at all. We live in a great time.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal (link requires subscription) editorializes on the conquest of polio and the role of Rotary International in that effort:
In 1985, when Rotary launched its eradication program, there were an
estimated 350,000 new cases of polio in 125 countries. Last year, 1,263 cases
were reported. More than one million Rotary members have volunteered their time
or donated money to immunize two billion children in 122 countries. In 1988,
Rotary money and its example were the catalyst for a global eradication drive
joined by the World Health Organization, Unicef and the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control. In 2000 Rotary teamed up with the United Nations Foundation to raise
$100 million in private money for the program. By the time the world is
certified as polio-free -- probably in 2008 -- Rotary will have contributed $600
million to its eradication effort.
The Journal calls this "the most successful private health-care initiative ever."