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Events  > 50th Polio Vaccine Anniversary
Polio Vaccine Timeline


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1800s   1900s   1920s   1930s   1940s   1950s  
1980s   1990s   2000s

  1800s Paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) takes its toll worldwide, affecting mostly children. The disease is known as infantile paralysis.
  1894 First known polio epidemic in the United States occurs in Vermont.
  1908 Dr. Karl Landsteiner discovers that the cause of infantile paralysis is a virus.
  1916 The first major epidemic of polio documented in the United States strikes, paralyzing young children and horrifying the nation. Increasing numbers of outbreaks occur each year in the U.S.
  1921 Franklin D. Roosevelt is diagnosed with polio.

Roosevelt organizes the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation for polio sufferers.

  1928 The first iron lung is used to preserve breathing function in patients with acute polio.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected President of the United States.

  1938 President Roosevelt founds the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP, known today as the March of Dimes).
  1938-1958 March of Dimes recruits celebrities to help raise funds and awareness in its efforts to fight polio.

Dr. Jonas Salk arrives at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Techniques earned there with influenza are used later to develop the polio vaccine.

  1945 President Roosevelt dies on April 12.
  1947 Salk is recruited by the University of Pittsburgh to develop a virus research program.
  1948-49 Scientists from four universities confirm there are only three strains of poliovirus.
  1952 The worst recorded polio epidemic in United States history occurs, with 57,628 reported cases.
  • Dr. Salk and associates develop a potentially safe injectable vaccine against polio, (IPV) given to nearly 15,000 Pittsburgh-area subjects (most were children) in pilot trials, 1952-1954.
  • Dr. Thomas Francis, Jr., University of Michigan, directs field trials of Salk vaccine sponsored by NFIP. The trials are the largest in U.S. history, involving 1.8 million children, and use the now standard double-blind process for the first time.
  • Nobel Prize in Medicine is awarded to John F. Enders, Thomas H. Weller, and Fredrick C. Robbins for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in tissue cultures.
      1955 On April 12 at the University of Michigan, Dr. Francis announces field trial results: Salk vaccine is “safe, effective and potent.” Dr. Francis’s Vaccine Evaluation Center becomes the model for future vaccine trials.
      1955-57 Once vaccine becomes available, incidence of polio in the United States falls by 85-90%.
      1961 Oral polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Albert Sabin, is licensed for use in the United States.
      1963 Congress establishes the Immunization Grant Program; polio incidence plummets to only 396 reported cases in the United States.
      1979 Last U.S. case of polio caused by wild poliovirus.
      1985 Rotary International establishes its PolioPlus program, which holds two fundraising events. Rotary has contributed over $500 million to fight polio worldwide.
      1988 Global Polio Eradication Initiative is launched as global burden of polio impacts 350,000 in 125 countries annually. Spearheading partners include the World Health Organization, Rotary International, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UNICEF.
      1994 The Americas are certified polio-free.
      1999 The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that the oral vaccine be discontinued in the United States, and a modified IPV becomes the preferred vaccine.
      2000 The Western Pacific Region is certified polio-free.
  • The European Region is certified polio-free.
  • Rotary International launches a second fundraising campaign to eradicate polio.
      2005 April 12, 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of the Salk vaccine. Efforts to eradicate polio worldwide remain necessary, with just over 1,200 cases globally.

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    Photo credit - Photography provided by The March of Dimes and Rotary International

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    This page last modified on April 11, 2005

    iron lung patient
    Child in iron lung
    Dr. Jonas Salk
    Dr. Jonas Salk
    children with crutches
    Polio taking its toll on children globally
    Dr. Albert Sabin
    Dr. Albert Sabin
    marked fingers show that children have been vaccinated
    Marked fingers show that these girls have been vaccinated

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