The History of Polio Vaccine Development

Polio is an infectious disease caused by a virus. This virus may spread as a result of eating dirty food or drinking dirty water.

The virus first enters the nose or mouth, makes its way to the intestines where it incubates, then travels to the bloodstream. This triggers the body in producing antibodies to fight the infection – the polio virus. However, when the virus reaches the brain and spinal cord, the effects are disastrous.

The symptoms of polio include: headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, muscle pains, stiff neck and back, pain in the limbs, paralysis and it can lead to death.

 There is no cure for polio. Nonetheless, there are two types of vaccines used: Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV) and Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

 The road to finding polio vaccine was not easy. The search for vaccine began in earlier 1990s. This was a result of the increased rate of people contracting the disease every year. The first recorded major epidemic of polio in the United States was in the summer of 1894 in Vermont. According to the CDC, in the late 1940s to the early 1950s around 35,000 people were crippled every year in U.S.

Success story of Dr. Salk and Sabin

American researchers, Dr. Salk and Sabin succeeded in producing vaccine for polio. However, previous research  laid a foundation for the two scientists to finding a vaccine.

Dr. Jonas Salk, a medical student and later a researcher became the head of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh in 1947. As noted by PBS during his research of finding a polio vaccine, “To start with, he had to sort the 125 strains of virus. He found that they fell into three basic types and knew that a vaccine would have to include these three types to protect against all polio.”

According to Accessexcellence, Dr. Salk’s research was greatly helped as a result of previous research done by growing poliovirus in cell culture instead of using monkeys as experiment or object of research.

Therefore, he killed several strains of the virus and injected the viruses which were not dangerous into the bloodstream of a healthy person. The body reacted by producing antibodies to fight the disease, thereby becoming resistant to future exposure. 

He tried the vaccine on his wife, children and himself, and former polio patients. He announced his findings on March 25, 1953 on the national radio station, CBC, and two years later he published the findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This led to about two million school children vaccinated in 1954, and a national campaign began. In 1995, the government granted permission for the vaccine to be used.

However, Dr. Bruce Sabin on the other hand believed Dr. Salk’s vaccine was not strong enough. He worked on developing an oral vaccine. He tasted a live, oral form of vaccine whereby the infected part of the virus was weakened, meaning he used the weakened form of the live virus. He carried the tests outside of United States. The use of the oral vaccine was later licensed in the U.S.A.

Currently, in United States, polio is not a threat. However, as stated by the CDC, “The eradication of polio from western hemisphere is among the most significant public health achievements of all time, but victory over polio cannot be claimed until the entire world is made safe from the disease, and that is the commitment the global health public community has made.”