Today in 1955, hundreds of schoolchildren in the town of Stafford Springs lined up to be vaccinated against polio, as part of a massive statewide effort to protect young Connecticans from the deadly childhood disease.
Polio was the most feared childhood illness of the 20th century. An untreatable virus which spread quickly and rarely exhibited any preliminary symptoms, polio could result in partial or total paralysis or even death, and not just to children. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used a wheelchair for most of his adult life due to polio he was afflicted with at age 39. Other partially paralyzed victims lost the ability to breathe on their own, and were forced to spend their lives in massive artificial respirators known as “iron lungs.”
After decades of failed attempts to find either a cure for, or a vaccine protective against, the polio virus, one American researcher finally achieved a breakthrough. In 1952, Jonas Salk, a virologist at the University of Pittsburgh, created the first stable and effective polio vaccine. Following a lengthy series of trials, the vaccine was declared both safe and effective in 1955. The federal government, together with the March of Dimes, immediately launched a fully funded national vaccination campaign.
“Polio,” March of Dimes website
Eliza Berman, “How the Polio Vaccine Trials Relieved a Worried Nation,” Time Magazine