Even so, there were no major outbreaks until the 1900s.
Ironically, it was the increase in sanitary living conditions that provided a way for polio to devastate communities. Prior to the improved sanitation in wealthier countries, babies were exposed to polio while still protected by their moms’ antibodies. This allowed them to fight off infection and develop immunity.
However, during this time when we were cleaning up our act, but before we had vaccines to protect us against polio, the older kids and adults who’d lost their moms’ antibodies were unprotected and were vulnerable targets for the poliovirus.
Franklin Roosevelt is a famous example. He was 39 years old when he became infected in 1921, and he spent the rest of his life working to support polio research, in addition to being President of the United States.
Polio vaccines were introduced in the U.S. in the ‘50s and ‘60s, halting the episodic surges of infection experienced in this country.
My teenager was vaccinated against polio when the oral vaccine was still being used in this country. I remember warnings from her pediatrician about the need to be careful during diaper changes and to always wash my hands afterward.
I hesitated when she told me about the polio vaccine she wanted to give my daughter. Polio was not a common infection in the world in the 1990s, and I debated if the risk of vaccination was worth it. After all, 144 of the 152 cases of polio in the U.S. between 1980 and 1999 were caused by the live oral polio vaccine, not the wild poliovirus.
In the end, I had her vaccinated because I felt it was the safer choice for her and those around her. When it comes to eradication of a disease, we don’t stop vaccinating when it’s mostly gone. We keep vaccinating until it’s long gone.
Thanks to Parents Who Protect for allowing us to re-post this piece.
Image courtesy of elvisinfonet.com