The list of symptoms was distressingly unhelpful — fever, tummy ache, aching muscles. If a child complained of a sore leg, parents didn’t sleep that night. In our age of medical wonders, it may be hard to appreciate the depth of the relief that greeted Salk’s vaccine.
Doctors in Europe had formed a diagnosis in the 19th century, but people could do little but fret. Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children opened at 700 South Euclid Avenue in 1924 to serve polio patients. For decades, its 100 beds usually were filled.
Before the vaccine, headlines announced new cases, deaths and the effort to raise money for research. Summer was considered the “polio season,” but that was a function of humans mingling, not temperatures. As clusters of cases erupted, officials closed schools and swimming pools. An epidemic in 1949 killed 64 people in the St. Louis area.
In August 1951, four of the five children of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Schwane of Marthasville contracted polio. Two of them died within three weeks.
Salk led a research team in Pittsburgh that developed the vaccine. As final tests were conducted, drug manufacturers stockpiled serum. When approval was announced April 12, 1955, the rush was on. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes) bought enough vaccine for the free shots nationwide.
Newspapers ran long lists of vaccination times at schools, and more than 50,000 eligible St. Louis-area children lined up for shots. It took several years of vaccinating children and adults, but the number of cases eventually fell significantly. St. Louis reported its last naturally occurring case in 1963. Salk died in 1995 at age 80.
Originally Appeared Here