vaccine

Listener Essay - Polio Pioneer

Nov 17, 2017

After retiring from Berkshire Farm Center, Leona Scarpinato was a volunteer at the National Archives in Pittsfield, where she assisted others in researching their family histories. She lives in Columbia County where she writes about memories of her own life, as well as stories of her ancestors, for her children and future generations.

Polio Pioneer

It was not unusual for a child growing up in the early nineteen fifties, to get measles, German measles, mumps or chickenpox. Before the advent of vaccines, it was assumed that children would get these childhood diseases and many healthy children were deliberately exposed to sick children to get the disease while they were young.

But there was one childhood disease that was feared by parents and that was polio, also known as infantile paralysis, since the virus mostly struck young children.

I enjoyed school and I looked forward to the new things I would learn. Near the end of the school year, my thoughts were more of summer fun than schoolwork; as I looked forward to carefree summer days, picnics in the park, swimming at the town beach, and riding my bike with friends. We spent the days outside from morning till suppertime, ate quickly and went outside again to watch the arrival of lightning bugs as it started to get dark.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Wikimedia Commons

New York state health officials are warning against possible measles exposures in Saratoga and Warren Counties.

Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. 

Meredith Wadman covered biomedical research politics from Washington for twenty years. She is a reporter at  Science and has written for NatureFortune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Stanford and Columbia, she began medical school at the University of British Columbia and completed her medical degree as a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford.

Her new book is The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease

UAlbany logo
wikipedia commons

The University at Albany is responding to eight confirmed cases of mumps on campus.

Phil and Pam Gradwell/Flickr

Health professionals throughout New York are spreading the word: get vaccinated!

Health advocates want to convey the message that immunizing our children is good for them and for our communities, and essential to public health.   For each of the routine childhood vaccines, the national health promotion and disease prevention initiative Healthy People 2020 target is 90 percent coverage. On average, 95 percent of all students in New York are fully immunized. But recent outbreaks of long-controlled diseases and a burgeoning anti-vaccination minority have officials concerned.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission / Flickr

BOSTON (AP) - State officials are offering reassurances that there is plenty of vaccine still available for people who are still looking to get a flu shot.

Interim public health commissioner Lauren Smith said Thursday the state has distributed 760,000 doses of vaccine so far this season, and there remains ample supply. She said officials are working with local boards of health that are looking to open public clinics to meet the demand for flu shots.

Officials say there have been 6,000 laboratory confirmed cases of flu in Massachusetts and 18 flu-related deaths.