We all have some form of understanding of what a vaccine is and how it is administered. It is typically given through a syringe, usually injected into a muscle, whether that be the arm, thigh, or gluteus. There are some exceptions, as there are oral vaccinations as well. But, there was a time when there was a different kind of vaccination for an epidemic that was affecting children all across the United States, and that illness was polio.
Approximately 60 years ago, polio was sweeping the nation. It was generally contracted through exposure to water that had fecal matter in it, and if ingested, they were at risk for polio, if they were not vaccinated. Children that were affected were even sometimes taken to isolation hospitals, away from their families, where they were treated for the illness. It wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that a vaccine for the disease.
In 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk, from the University of Pittsburgh had created the very first polio vaccine. It was an inactive poliovirus that was administered by injection. In 1954, Salk inoculated 137 students from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh. Results showed a year later that the vaccine was effective. Parents everywhere wanted to get their children inoculated against polio.
Dr. Albert Sabin, of the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio found a brand-new way to vaccinate children against polio – and it involved a sugar cube. Using a weakened version of the live virus, this new vaccine was able to be taken orally. It only took a small drop of the vaccine, dropped onto a sugar cube. Then, it was administered to the children. It was quick and easy.
When parents got word of this new vaccine, they flocked to local schools, churches, fire stations and other public meeting places, where the vaccines were being administered. Sabin’s vaccine quickly became the vaccine of choice, as it cost less money to make and was easier to produce. Lines snaked around buildings offering the vaccine as families lined up to make sure their children were protected.
Since both vaccines were released, polio has been virtually eradicated across the globe. However, there is still no cure for polio if one contracts it. But many will never forget their polio vaccination with a simple little sugar cube. The contributions of Dr. Salk and Dr. Sabin will forever be remembered in the world of medicine and the eradication of polio.
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