Dr. Peter Salk vaguely remembers the day he was vaccinated against polio in 1953.
His father, dr. Jonas Salk, made history by creating the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh and vaccinated his family as soon as he felt it was safe and effective.
Although the vaccine has not yet been tested, 9-year-old Peter was one of the first children to ever receive the vaccine.
“My dad brought home a vaccine (and) this scary equipment that neither I nor my brothers really enjoyed seeing,” Salk 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 home outside of Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, the boys visited their father in the DT Watson home for crippled children to receive their second shot. This time, cameras were waiting for them.
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‘I remember hiding for injections. “There was a big rubbish bin next to the fridge and I chose one opportunity to squat behind it and try to make myself invisible,” said Salk. “Which, of course, does not work.”
Cases of polio peaked in the early 1950s, but have killed an average of more than 35,000 people annually each summer for decades, sometimes causing paralysis and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Public officials have closed swimming pools, movie theaters, amusement parks and other places associated with summer vacations.
The highly contagious disease spreads through contact with infected feces, often when children have not washed their hands properly, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Jonas Salk’s vaccine helped to eradicate polio from most of the world, something many people hope will happen with the coronavirus vaccine. However, Peter Salk warns that eradicating polio from the United States has been a long and difficult journey, and he does not expect the elimination of COVID-19 to be 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 heads the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation.
‘It’s going to be a long road, even getting enough vaccines to people around the world. “This virus does not respect borders,” he said. “It travels by plane all over the world, and unless this virus is found everywhere, it can continue to spread and be a problem.”
Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was proven safe and effective in 1954 after the largest trial in the country’s history, which included about 1.8 million children. However, it took the US more than 20 years to eradicate polio. According to the CDC, there have been no polio cases in the US since 1979.
About 3 million people, mostly front-line health workers, have been vaccinated against the coronavirus after the US Food and Drug Administration approved COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Federal officials expect 20 million doses to be manufactured and available in early January, another 30 million doses by the end of that month and 50 million more by the end of February.
Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, said vaccines should be available to the general public by the end of February or early March. However, most experts believe that vaccines will only be available until late spring or early summer, assuming there are no production problems and that the FDA will authorize two additional vaccines by sometime in February.
Aside from the logistics, another hurdle that will take time to overcome is vaccine vaccination, Salk said.
In a recent poll by the USA TODAY / Suffolk University among 1,000 registered voters, 46% said they would take the vaccine as soon as they could. Meanwhile, 32% said they would wait for others to get the shots before doing so themselves.
Two-thirds of Democrats, 67%, are willing to take the vaccine as soon as possible. The percentage of Republicans who are ready to take the vaccine is a stitch lower than the percentage who say they would never take it, 35% compared to 36%.
Vaccine hesitation is not new in America, Salk said. According to a 1954 Gallup poll, when the field trial began, only 53% of Americans said they thought the vaccine would work.
“There was still hesitation, even at the time, given the extent to which people were afraid of polio and wanted a vaccine,” Salk said. “I was surprised to see it.”
Salk’s father tried to get this setback by vaccinating his family and co-workers to instill some confidence before extending clinical trials to the greater Pittsburgh area and later the rest of the country. (Government oversight laws will not allow this today.)
The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now called the March of Dimes – also enlisted the help of some of the most famous celebrities at the time, such as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly and Elvis Presley.
The U.S. government has begun a similar campaign for coronavirus vaccination; High-profile figures who prefer to make vaccinations in public include Vice President Mike Pence, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, and the elected president, Joe Biden.
While the US does not eliminate COVID-19, Salk is impressed with the coronavirus vaccines and hopeful for the future.
“Even with polio vaccines, it was a very complicated road we traveled,” he said. “It’s still early in the game and we need to keep a close eye on all the people who have been vaccinated … (but) we are on a good track and the results are very promising.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Health and Patient Safety Coverage in USA TODAY 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 editorial input.
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: COVID vaccine: Salk’s son talks about polio vaccine, the future of coronavirus