Dr. Peter Salk vaguely remembers the day he was vaccinated against polio in 1953.
Her 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 has not been tested yet, Salk was one of the first children to receive the vaccine when he was 9 years old.
“My father had brought home some vaccines (and) these terrible equipment that neither I nor my brothers liked to see,” he told USA TODAY. “Large glass syringes and reusable needles that needed to be sterilized by boiling them on the stove.”
Salk remembers receiving the photo while standing with his brothers in the kitchen of his family’s home outside of Pittsburgh. Two weeks later, the boys visited their father at DT Watson Home for crippled children to receive their second injection. This time, the cameras were waiting for them.
More: What the COVID-19 vaccine owes to Dr. Jonas Salk and the end of the ‘polio season’
“I remember hiding from injections. There was a big trash can next to the fridge and I chose an occasion to crouch behind it and try to stay invisible, ”said Salk. “Which, of course, didn’t work.”
Polio cases peaked in the early 1950s, but came each summer crippling an average of more than 35,000 people a year for decades, sometimes causing paralysis and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public authorities closed swimming pools, cinemas, amusement parks and other pastimes that happened naturally with summer holidays.
The highly infectious disease spreads through contact with infected feces, which usually happened when children did not wash their hands properly, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Jonas Salk’s vaccine helped clean up polio from most of the world, something that many people expect to happen with the coronavirus vaccine. However, Salk cautions that eradicating polio from the United States has been a long and difficult journey, and he does not expect that eliminating COVID-19 will be easier.
Salk is a doctor and part-time professor of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh, where his father developed the polio vaccine. He also runs the Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation.
“It will be a long way, just distributing enough vaccines to people around the world … this virus does not respect borders,” he said. “He travels by plane to all parts of the world and, unless this virus can be contained everywhere, it will continue to spread and will be a problem.”
Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine proved to be safe and effective in 1954, after the largest trial in the country’s history, which included about 1.8 million participating children. However, it took the US more than 20 years to eradicate polio. According to the CDC, no case of polio has originated in the United States since 1979.
About 3 million people, most of them first-rate healthcare professionals, were vaccinated against the coronavirus after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BionNTech and Moderna.
Federal officials expect 20 million doses to be manufactured and made available for shipment in early January, another 30 million doses by the end of that month and 50 million more by the end of February.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said vaccines should be available to the general public in late February or early March. However, most experts believe that vaccines will not be widely available until late spring or early summer, assuming there are no production problems and that the FDA will authorize two additional vaccines sometime in February.
Logistics aside, another obstacle that will continue to take time to overcome is the vaccine’s hesitation, Salk said.
In a recent USA TODAY / Suffolk University poll of 1,000 registered voters, 46% said they will get the vaccine as soon as they can. Meanwhile, 32% say they will wait for others to take the injections before they do it themselves.
Two-thirds of Democrats, 67%, are willing to get the vaccine as soon as possible. The percentage of Republicans ready to get the vaccine is one point lower than the percentage that says they would never get it, 35% versus 36%.
But vaccine hesitation is not new in America, said Salk. According to a 1954 Gallup poll, when the field test started, only 53% of Americans said they thought the vaccine would work.
“So, even then, given the degree to which people were afraid of polio and wanted a vaccine,” there was still hesitation, said Salk. “I was surprised to see this.”
Salk’s father tried to overcome this setback by vaccinating his family and co-workers to inspire a level of confidence before expanding clinical trials to the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and later to the rest of the country. (Government oversight laws would not permit this today.)
The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis – now called March for Dimes – also had the help of some of the most famous celebrities of the time, such as Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Grace Kelly and even Elvis Presley.
The United States government began participating in a similar campaign for the coronavirus vaccine with some prominent figures choosing to be vaccinated publicly, such as Vice President Mike Pence, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci , and President-elect Joe Biden.
While the United States is far from eliminating COVID-19 as polio, Salk is impressed with coronavirus vaccines and hopeful for the future.
“Even with polio vaccines, we have come a very complex path,” he said. “This is still at the beginning of the game and we have to keep an eye on everyone who has been vaccinated … (but) we are on the right track and the results are extremely promising.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
USA TODAY health and safety coverage is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Health. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial contributions.
This article was originally published in USA TODAY: COVID vaccine: Salk’s son talks about polio vaccine, future of coronavirus