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History of Vaccines Blog


August 3, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

Today's blog post, written for National Immunization Awareness Month, is by P. Loughman. The photograph of a young woman and small boy is so precious that my cousin won’t take it out of the oval frame. He was her father and kept the photo on top of his bureau until the day he died. She was Seraphina (according to my mother some years ago); maybe Filomena (ventured my uncle when studying the family tree); definitely Josephine (said my cousin who knew best). No one agreed on her official first name, but everyone knew exactly who she was and how she died. The oldest child born to a stone mason from Naples and a multilingual Greek mother from Alexandria, Josephine Rosiello was a confident girl and capable helper with nine younger siblings in early 20th century Brooklyn. Her immigrant parents preferred nicknames and the family called her Fina. Dressed in fashionable flapper styles, she forged ahead into the new modern world, the epitome of a first generation American, until she succumbed to polio in October of 1924. 

Posted in: Polio

April 10, 2015  Karie Youngdahl

Sixty years ago, on April 12, 1955, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the results of the largest clinical trial in history were announced. To the tremendous relief of a hopeful nation, Thomas Francis Jr., MD, revealed that the Salk inactivated poliomyelitis vaccine was “safe, effective, and potent” against paralytic polio. The trial had begun in April 1954 when the first of about 1.3 million first- , second-, and third-graders began their participation as vaccine recipients (about 422,000), placebo recipients (about 201,000), or observed control subjects (about 725,000) (see the official report on the trial for details on the study design). Injections, observations, and data collection continued through the spring, and then the information was handed over to Francis’s team for analysis.

Posted in: Polio

September 2, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

I was a sprouting ten-year-old girl in Westchester County, right outside of New York City, and all was well. I’d hop on my bike and help my older brother deliver newspapers up and down the streets of my town. I’d swim in Long Island Sound, a short bike-ride from our house. And I had a new baby sister! I was in fifth grade. One day while walking home from school for lunch, kicking a stone down the road, my legs began to hurt. After a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and glass of cold milk, I said, “Mom, I can’t go back to school today.” My neck got stiff, my fever rose alarmingly, and what started as small pains turned into large ones. The doctor came and soon I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, diagnosed with polio.

Posted in: Polio

May 14, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

The sight of a red cross or crescent on a white background is supposed to signal medical aid, neutrality, and safety. In conflicts around the world, however, hostile actors are flouting decades of protocol and the Geneva convention itself: they are killing and kidnapping Red Cross, Red Crescent, and other emergency aid workers. Al Qaeda-associated militants kidnapped an International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent (ICRC) team in Mali in February this year (military forces freed them about a week later). ICRC polio vaccination workers and staff were killed in Afghanistan in April 2014. Polio vaccinators and their guards have been killed in Pakistan and Nigeria as well.

Posted in: Public Health, Polio, Ethics

April 25, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

Sixty years ago tomorrow the largest clinical trial in history began. On April 26, 1954, thousands of U.S. schoolchildren rolled up their sleeves to take Jonas Salk’s inactivated poliovirus vaccine. Newspapers reported that Randall Kerr of McClean, Virginia, was the first child in the trial to get the vaccine. (Thousands of others in earlier stages of research had received the vaccine, including Salk’s wife and children.) The 1954 trial was blinded, meaning that the children didn’t know whether they received the vaccine or a saline placebo injection. Regardless, most viewed themselves if not exactly as test subjects (which they certainly were) but as Polio Pioneers, as they and their parents were encouraged to think of them.

Posted in: Polio

April 23, 2014  Karie Youngdahl

Disease and conflict are unfortunate companions. We’ve seen this recently in the Syrian Arab Republic, where polio has surfaced after violence uprooted millions of people. Other outcomes of conflict for children in Syria and elsewhere are hunger, displacement, interruption of education, and other harms. Please join us May 8 at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to commemorate World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. Christiaan Morrsink, PhD, director of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia, will give an overview of conflicts around the world and their effect on children. Pavan Ganapathiraju, MPH, will discuss how the war is interrupting polio eradication efforts in Syria. World fusion artist Farah Siraj will perform, and Clara Barton, U.S. Civil War nurse and founder of the Red Cross, will appear.

Posted in: Polio

September 30, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

On Friday, September 27, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health held its annual Vaccine Day. Bruce Aylward, MD, MPH, Assistant Director-General, Polio, Emergencies and Country Collaboration, World Health Organization, gave the keynote address. His title was "Eradicating Polio: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?" Aylward’s riveting Ted Talk explores similar topics, and so I won’t summarize much of what he discussed. But his picture of the economic benefits of polio eradication was quite interesting. Aylward noted that “It’s not enough that the cost benefit ratio is positive. It has to be very much in favor of the benefits, because the risks to failure are high.” Smallpox eradication provides a model for estimating the cost/benefit ratio of eradication. Aylward noted that the US saved about 159 dollars for every 1 dollar spent on eradication. For the international campaign, the ratio is about 400:1. And the United States recoups its financial investment in the smallpox eradication campaign every 26 days. So, he asserts, smallpox eradication was unequivocally worth the “squeeze.”

Posted in: Polio

July 16, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

I was raised in Sioux City, Iowa, a town of about 80,000 people on the very western edge of the state, where the Big Sioux and Floyd rivers join the Missouri. Much of the town's history and identity comes from the rivers -- French fur traders used them for transporting goods, Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri, burying their only casualty on a river bluff in what is now Sioux City, and later, steamboats and barges moved material up and down the river. As they did in 2011, the rivers frequently flooded, with disasterous consequences. I hadn't known before that a flood in 1952 was linked to a polio epidemic in the town.

Posted in: Polio

July 3, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

We've expanded and updated a popular post from 2012 by History of Vaccines former intern Alexandra Linn. Happy Fourth of July! In honor of this historic U.S. holiday, we’ve compiled a list showing how infectious diseases have affected the lives of our most heralded leaders – the American presidents. These concise accounts are evidence that diseases can strike anyone, anywhere at any time, and even in the White House.

Posted in: General, Influenza, Pneumococcal disease, Polio, Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Yellow Fever

May 29, 2013  Karie Youngdahl

A recent paper published in Journal of Virology describes sporadic and sustained outbreaks of illness from vaccine-derived polioviruses in Nigeria. This study draws attention to what is often called the polio endgame – the vaccines and immunization activities that will be necessary to eradicate polio, given the ability of vaccine-derived viruses from the live polio vaccines to circulate and cause disease. To understand the complications of eradicating polio, it’s necessary to know that three types of wild poliovirus have been identified. Types 1 and 3 are responsible for all cases of wild polio in the remaining polio-endemic countries of Pakistan and Nigeria. (Very recent polio cases in Kenya and Somalia are due to Type 1 wild poliovirus.) Type 2 wild poliovirus has not been detected since 1999, when it was found in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is presumed to be eliminated.

Posted in: Polio