USA TODAY - IDM's 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 inoculated his family as soon as he felt it was safe and effective. Although the vaccine hadn’t undergone any trials yet, 9-year-old Peter was among the first children to ever receive the vaccine.
“My father had brought home some vaccine (and) these terrifying pieces of equipment that neither I nor my brothers very much enjoyed seeing,” Salk told USA TODAY. “Big glass syringes and reusable needles that needed to be sterilized by boiling over the stove.” Salk remembers getting the shot while standing alongside his brothers in the kitchen of their family home outside of Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, the boys visited their father at the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children to receive their second shot. This time, cameras were waiting for them.
Jonas Salk’s vaccine helped wipe polio from most of the world, something that many people hope will happen with the coronavirus vaccine. However, Peter Salk warns eradicating polio from the United States was a long and difficult journey, and he doesn’t expect eliminating COVID-19 will be any easier.
“It’s going to be a long road, just even getting enough vaccines out to people around the world. ... This virus does not respect borders,” he said. “It travels by airplane everywhere in the world and unless this virus can be contained everywhere, it’s going to continue to spread and be a problem.”
Logistics aside, another hurdle that will continue to take time to overcome is vaccine hesitancy, Salk said. In a recent USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll of 1,000 registered voters, 46% said they will take the vaccine as soon as they can. Meanwhile, 32% said they will wait for others to get the shots before they do so themselves.
Vaccine hesitancy is not new to America, Salk said. According to a Gallup Poll from 1954, when the field trial began, only 53% of Americans said they thought the vaccine would work.
“So even back then, given the degree to which people were frightened about polio and wanting a vaccine,” there was still hesitancy, Salk said. “I was surprised to see that.” Salk’s father attempted to get ahead of this setback by vaccinating his family and co-workers to instill a level of confidence before expanding clinical trials to the greater Pittsburgh area and, later, the rest of the nation. (Government oversight laws wouldn't permit 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.
While the U.S. is far from eliminating COVID-19, Salk is impressed with the coronavirus vaccines and hopeful for the future.
“Even with polio vaccines, it’s been a very complex road that we’ve traveled,” he said. “This is still early in the game and we’ve got to keep a close eye on all of the people who were vaccinated ... (but) we’re on a good track and the results are extremely promising.
Read full story & view video from 'It's going to be a long road': His father developed the polio vaccine. This is what he thinks about COVID-19. by Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY