50 years ago, a vaccine for polio

April 15, 2005

Well into the 1950s, polio was still the mysterious virus that had crippled President Franklin D. Roosevelt, killed thousands of other people and confined thousands more, mostly children, to coffinlike "iron lung" respirators. But 50 years ago this week, scientists announced that a much-anticipated polio vaccine developed by University of Pittsburgh researcher Jonas Salk was safe and effective.

Within a week, the first truckloads of Salk's vaccine arrived in Baltimore and health officials began vaccinating 140,000 children across Maryland..

Salk recommended three doses of the vaccine over the course of several weeks. The shots made children cry, but within a few years the number of polio cases had plummeted.

Polio wards in hospitals closed and the dreaded iron lungs began to disappear. By the end of the 1960s, polio had virtually disappeared in the United States.

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