60th Anniversary of the Polio Vaccine

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Celebrating the success of the Salk polio vaccine.
April 12, 2015 marked the 60th Anniversary of the Salk Polio Vaccine

In the 30s, 40s and early 50s ―poliomyelitis (polio) or ―infantile paralysis was a dreaded household word across the western world. “The crippler,” as it was often called, was a threat to young and old and could lead to death or lifelong disability. Fear of polio spread like wildfire – especially during the summer months. Public pools were closed, children were kept inside, as the polio wards in hospitals were teaming with individuals in iron lungs or quarantined in hospital beds. It was the children who were the most vulnerable.

March of Dimes was established in Canada in 1951 specifically as a result of the scourge of polio, with the goal of raising funds to contribute to the research into a preventative vaccine. The funds collected door to door by the Marching Mothers was what made the dream of a polio vaccination reality.

In 1955, Doctor Jonas Salk had successfully developed a vaccine and it was rushed to be manufactured at a variety of laboratories including Connaught Laboratories (now sanofi pasteur) in Toronto, Canada. The news of the vaccine's efficacy was made public on April 12, 1955 and Dr. Salk was lauded as a "miracle worker". Dr. Salk's research was selfless, his sole aim to quickly create a safe and effective vaccine that was available to everybody. When asked who owned the patent to it, Salk said, "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"

In Canada, the polio vaccination program, led by then Minister of Health and Welfare, Paul Martin Sr., was the first publicly-funded inoculation program, and it is for this reason that Martin Sr. is often recognized as the 'grandfather of universal healthcare'.

As a direct result of Dr. Salk's humanitarian efforts and commitment to science, 99% of those at risk in the developing world have been inoculated, and polio has been eradicated in most of the world thanks to widespread use of Salk and Sabin vaccines. These modern day statistics are a testament to the power of immunization and how crucial it is that we take advantage of accessible, affordable vaccination programs. While new cases of polio are historically low, the threat of infection remains high. More and more countries will be adopting use of Salk vaccine to minimize risk of polio.

​March of Dimes Canada is well aware of the importance of prevention. There is no cure for polio.  We have spent over 60 years providing services and support for polio survivors, including those who have experienced the late effects of polio (post-polio syndrome) many years after the initial onset. 

For this reason, March of Dimes encourages all Canadians to get immunized and ensure that their immunizations are up to date. We also want to remind Canadians that there are individuals at higher risk of infection such as small children, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, immunocompromised and travelers to countries where infectious diseases such as polio continue to be endemic, and they need protection. Immunization is safe and the most effective way to ensure that children and communities remain free of serious diseases. With rapid travel in todays world viruses and other bugs are only a plane ride away from our communities.

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