The polio vaccine is my favorite one to talk about. I know, I know: I’m a nerd. But after you read this blog, hopefully you will see why!
Polio is a very scary disease because of the impact it can have on the rest of a person’s life. Although all of the vaccine-preventable diseases have the potential to cause life-long effects on a person’s life, the chances of life-long effects and disabilities are greater when polio is contracted.
Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s, cases of polio hit an all-time high with an average of 35,000 cases per year being reported in the United States! Jonas Salk, a medical researcher, developed the polio vaccine which was introduced in 1955. The rate of polio began to decline significantly.
Polio has always been a highly feared virus. The majority of people who contract polio don’t suffer from paralysis. The most common cases of polio appear as a sore throat, fever, stomach ache and sometimes flu-like symptoms. However, about 1-5% experienced stiffness of the back and limbs; less than 1% suffer from paralysis of the limbs. Although that is a low percentage, when there are polio outbreaks, sometimes that “less than 1%” seems a little more frequent. Many who lived before the polio vaccine was developed seem to be able to recall children that they knew, and maybe even played with, contracting polio and suffering from paralysis.
One of the most known symbols of polio is the iron lung. This is a device that was created to help polio patients who had begun to have difficulty breathing. Before the iron lung was invented, most people died at this stage of polio. The iron lung would aid those with polio by helping them breath until they were able to begin breathing again on their own. Pictures of wards from this era (which can be found all over the internet) show many iron lungs in rows. All you can see is people’s heads with their bodies receiving aid from inside a large tank-like object. It is heartbreaking to see.
As I said before, when the polio vaccine became available, the rate of polio declined rapidly! The United States went from averaging 35,000 cases per year prior to the vaccine to fewer than 2,500 cases being reported just two years after the polio vaccine had been introduced! Ten years after the development of the vaccine, in 1965, only 61 cases were reported! Now, world-wide, we are 1% away from polio eradication! There are only four endemic countries left in the world!
Even though polio is very close to being eradicated, we should be careful not to take for granted how quickly polio can return. With more and more families choosing not to vaccinate, this fear of the return of polio could very easily turn into a reality. If someone who has not been vaccinated against polio would visit an endemic country, contract polio and return to the United States, he could easily transmit it to those around him who have also not received polio. For those who have received the vaccine, the chances of contracting polio are very low, although no vaccine is able to guarantee 100% prevention.
Polio is my favorite vaccine to discuss because it is proof that vaccines work. Polio was one of the most feared childhood diseases and now, the overwhelming majority of us don’t know anyone who has contracted polio. Furthermore, since we have never seen the devastating effects of polio, we have no real fear of it. This is all because of vaccines. This is current proof that vaccines work. But until it is globally eradicated, you must still vaccinate your children against polio. The more people who refuse to vaccinate, the greater the chances of these diseases returning to our country. You can’t rely on others to continue to vaccinate to protect your child. Do you part! Protect your children! Get them vaccinated!
All of these facts and more can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/polio/dis-faqs.htm and www.polioeradication.org