Dr. Peter Salk vaguely remembers the day he was vaccinated against polio in 1953.
His father, Dr. Jonas Salk, made history with the development of the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh and vaccinated his family as soon as he felt safe and effective.
Although the vaccine has not yet been studied, Salk was among the first children to receive the vaccine when she was 9 years old.
“My father had brought home a vaccine (and) these awful pieces of equipment that neither I nor my brothers were very fond of,” he told USA TODAY. “Large glass syringes and reusable needles that had to be sterilized by boiling over the stove.”
Salk remembers getting the shot while standing next to his brothers in the kitchen of their family home outside of Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, the boys visited their father in the DT Watson home for crippled children to get her second shot. This time cameras were waiting for them.
“I remember hiding from injections. There was a large trash can next to the refrigerator and I decided to take an opportunity to crouch behind it and be invisible, ”Salk said. “Which of course didn’t work.”
Cases of polio peaked in the early 1950s, but would arrive every summer and for decades disabled an average of more than 35,000 people a year, sometimes resulting in paralysis and death. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials closed swimming pools, cinemas, amusement parks and other recreational pursuits that naturally came with summer vacation.
The highly infectious disease spreads through contact with infected feces, which often happened when children didn’t wash their hands properly. according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Jonas Salks vaccine helped wipe it off Polio from most of the world, something many hope will happen with the coronavirus vaccine. However, Salk warns that polio eradication in the US has been a long and difficult journey, and he doesn’t expect eradicating COVID-19 to be any easier.
Salk is a doctor and part-time professor of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh, where his father developed the polio vaccine. He also directs the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation.
“It will be a long way to go just getting enough vaccines to people around the world … this virus doesn’t respect borders,” he said. “It travels by plane all over the world and if this virus is not everywhere it will continue to spread and be a problem.”
Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was found to be safe and effective in 1954 after the largest study in the country’s history involving around 1.8 million children. However, it took the United States more than 20 years to eradicate polio. No polio cases have occurred in the United States since 1979, according to the CDC.
Approximately 3 million people, mostly frontline health workers, were vaccinated against the coronavirus after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BionNTech and Moderna.
Federal officials estimate 20 million cans will be made and available for shipping by early January, an additional 30 million cans by the end of the month, and an additional 50 million by the end of February.
Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said vaccines should be available to the general public by late February or early March. However, most experts believe that vaccines won’t become widely available until late spring or early summer. Assuming there are no production problems and the FDA approves two more vaccines by February.
Aside from logistics, another hurdle that will take time to overcome is the vaccine’s hesitation, Salk said.
In a recent USA TODAY / Suffolk University poll of 1,000 registered voters46% say they will take the vaccine as soon as possible. Meanwhile, 32% say they will wait for others to take the picture before doing it themselves.
Two-thirds of Democrats, 67%, are ready to take the vaccine as soon as possible. The percentage of Republicans willing to take the vaccine is lower than the percentage that says they would never take it, 35% versus 36%.
But vaccine hesitation isn’t new in America, Salk said. According to a 1954 Gallup pollWhen the field trial began, only 53% of Americans said the vaccine would work.
“Even then, Salk was hesitant about the extent to which people were afraid of polio and wanted a vaccine,” Salk said. “I was surprised to see that.”
Salk’s father attempted to counter this setback by vaccinating his family and co-workers to instill a level of trust before expanding clinical trials to the greater Pittsburgh area and later to the rest of the nation. (Government oversight laws today wouldn’t allow this.)
The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now called the March for Dimes – has also enlisted the help of some of the most famous figures of the time, including Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly, and even Elvis Presley.
The U.S. government has started participating in a similar campaign for the coronavirus vaccine. Some high-profile figures have chosen to have public vaccination including Vice President Mike Pence, Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and President-elect Joe Biden.
While the US is a long way from eliminating COVID-19 like polio, Salk is impressed with the coronavirus vaccines and is hoping for the future.
“Even with polio vaccines, it has been a very complex journey that we have come,” he said. “It’s early in the game and we need to keep an eye on all of the people vaccinated … (but) we’re on the right track and the results are extremely promising.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
US TODAY health and patient safety coverage is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide any editorial contributions.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID vaccine: Salk’s son talks about polio vaccine, the future of the coronavirus