Saturday, April 09, 2011

Personal Connections

Polio: An American Story
Polio: An American Story 

"The feud between Salk and Sabin would outlive them both. There is still an ongoing debate over which man produced the better vaccine and which vaccine should be used today. What is certain, however, is that the polio crusade that consumed them remains one of the most significant and culturally revealing triumphs in American medical history."(p 7)

In the middle of the Nineteen-fifties when I was in grade school one of the more momentous events in my life was experiencing the first round of vaccinations for polio. This meant trips to the doctor to receive "shots" of Polio vaccine (subsequently the vaccines would move to the grade school and continue for several years). It is this event and the crusade that led to it that is detailed in David Oshinsky's book, Polio: An American Story. He takes a comprehensive approach to the story including the history of polio epidemics, Roosevelt's story and the "March of Dimes", and the battle between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin over the best approach to take regarding the vaccine. The actual trials of the Salk vaccine held in 1954 were a huge event in an era of history-making events ("Brown v. Board of Education, the Army-McCarthy hearings and the fall of Dien Bien Phu", p 188). The narrative is suspenseful, and made all the more compelling by my having lived through part of the story. Even as my generation was spared the ravages of the disease I was reminded of it by friends, family and teachers who had survived and bore the scars of it throughout the rest of their lives. Oshinsky's history won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and is worth reading for anyone who is interested in the impact of disease and medicine on the history of America.

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