The first inactivated polio vaccine was produced by Jonas Salk. In 1954, the inactivated vaccine was tested in a placebo controlled trial which enrolled 1.6 million children in Canada, Finland and in the United States. The following year it was adopted throughout the United States. In the years leading up to its adoption, parents feared allowing their children to swim in public pools due to the devastating effects of this communicable disease.
Parents and children eagerly lined up to accept this vaccine and the incidence of paralytic polio decreased from 13.9 cases per 100,000 to 0.8 cases per hundred thousand in 1961. Since that time it has been nearly completely eradicated.
A similar story exists for smallpox. Smallpox was a terrible disease and on average, nearly 3 out of every 10 people who got the disease died. The basis for a smallpox vaccination began way back in 1796. Intensified eradication programs began worldwide and in 1975, the last person in the world to have naturally acquired smallpox was diagnosed. Eradication of smallpox had occurred in North America in 1952.
It is hard to believe that with these well-documented successes against horrific diseases that so many people question the necessity, safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Sadly, only about half of the population the United States is fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 infection. This is not enough to provide the needed herd immunity to keep ourselves, our patients, parents and grandparents safe.
This week I completed the book on tape titled “Hype: A doctors guide to medical myths, exaggerative claims, and bad advice – How to tell what’s real and what’s not.“ by Kristin Loberg and Nina Shapiro MD. It was published in 2018 and took direct aim at the anti-vaccine movement. It took an honest look at the real science behind most common beliefs and assumptions and healthcare.
The bottom line is that the assumption that vaccines are dangerous is a health myth. They are far safer than dozens of activities that you already engaged in today. Their importance for the health of our society cannot be overstated.