April 12, 2005
On April 12th, 1955, at a convocation at the University of Michigan, it was announced that the polio virus vaccine developed by Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh was safe, effective and potent. Headlines around the world proclaimed "The Vaccine Works". The nickels and dimes that millions of Americans had donated to the March of Dimes had succeeded.During the first three years of widespread use of Salk's vaccine (1955-1957) the incidence of polio feel by 85%.For more information, see the March of Dimes website.It is difficult to imagine or remember the impact that the development of this vaccine had on the world's health. There are some interesting reflections here. Nowadays, 75% of the world's children receive the basic package of vaccinations, including polio vaccine. This saves millions of lives every year, and prevents disabilities in millions more.Polio killed about 2,000 children a year in the United States, and so Jonas Salk captured the imagination of the country as he sought a cure for this terrible disease. Across the developing world, three times that many people die each day from malaria, HIV or tuberculosis, which together kill about 5 million people a year. Imagine the jubilation in developing countries that would greet the development of a vaccine for one of these diseases. Unfortunately, the children developing countries are unlikely to be beneficiaries of the development of a vaccine for rich countries, because these are not the focus of health research in affluent countries.
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