Polio: A case for eradication

Polio vaccinations remain an important part of the Australian National Immunisation Program.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, remains one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century because of its ability to affect children — often paralysing them for life. In 1952, 58,000 cases were reported in the US during an epidemic, devastating families confronted by the knowledge the disease could not be cured.[i] [ii] An outcry in the US led to civic action and the development of a remarkable new vaccine.

The world’s first successful vaccine was developed in 1955 by Dr Jonas Salk, at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk’s progress came after a long campaign by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the National Institute of Infantile Paralysis, later called the March of Dimes, to fund research and treatment for polio.

What was so remarkable about Salk’s work was the creation of a new approach to polio vaccine that ran contrary to popular opinion. Unlike the first ”live” vaccine, discovered by Edward Jenner in 1796, Salk used an inactivated or ”killed” virus in the polio vaccine. Participants, in trials of the vaccine, developed their own antibodies in response to the introduction of the ”killed virus”, and immunity to polio. The new approach was a success and changed the course of history in the battle against polio.[iii]

Vaccinations have made stunning progress since 1988, when work to wipe out the disease through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative got underway. The initiative has vaccinated over 2.5 billion children in over 30 years [iv]. Since, case numbers worldwide have dropped from around 350,000 per year to just 22 cases in 2017,[v] putting eradication in sight.

According to the World Health Organization,[vi] Polio was eliminated in the Western Pacific in 2020.


Polio virus structure. Source: Image Source

Children affected by polio in calipers. Source: RetroFootage

The polio vaccine is introduced to the public in 1956. Source: RetroFootage

1950s street scene: Source: Babies and Breadwinners (Part I), U.S. Department of Health

Children playing in park. Source: RetroFootage

Vaccinate against polio poster. Source: Seven Network (Operations) Ltd

Child receives the Salk polio vaccine in 1956. Source: RetroFootage

Polio vaccine station. Source: Babies and Breadwinners (Part I), U.S. Department of Health

Polio vaccination sign on post.
Source: Babies and Breadwinners (Part I), U.S. Department of Health

Polio test 90% effective in newspaper. Source: RetroFootage

Polio charts. Source: Retrofootage

Boy receives oral polio vaccine in Conakry. Source: Julien Harneis (CC-BY-SA-2.0.)

Child receives oral polio vaccine in India. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Baby being given polio vaccination in arm. Source: Smartshiva1988 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Crowded narrow marketplace in Jerusalem. Source: Artbeats

Participants at the April 22, 2017 March for Science in Washington DC.
Source: Mobilus In Mobili (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Girl receiving polio vaccine in polio eradication campaign in Egypt.
Source: CDC Global Health (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Child being vaccinated on Pulse Polio Day Gwalior. Source: Shobhit Gosain. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Community health worker gives a vaccination in Odisha state, India.
Source: DFID – UK Department for International Development. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

National Immunization Day on 21st February 2016. Source: Shambhavinigam


Your Story (Inspirational, Orchestral, Uplifting, Emotional, Cinematic, Epic). Source: AudioKraken



Video editor: Grace O’Connell


This video is intended for educational purposes only and not for commercial profit. All images and footage have been selected to represent a concept or time in history and have been chosen to be as accurate as possible.

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