Innovations and Inaugurations: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Innovations and Inaugurations: Franklin D. Roosevelt

01.15.13 | By Stephanie Fischer

In New York City in 1916, in the first large outbreak of polio, more than 9000 people were infected and more than 2300 people died. The nationwide toll was nearly triple. As the years passed, the death toll mounted. A record number of cases were seen in the U.S. in 1952, with nearly 58,000 people stricken.

According to the National Museum of American History (which features a fascinating look at national epidemics), polio was dreaded partly because how it was transmitted was unknown and it occurred primarily in children. Homes were quarantined and victims isolated in the hospital. Some towns prohibited the entry of children under the age of 16 in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 when he contracted polio during a vacation to a lake in Canada in 1921. This, coupled with the prevalence of infections in July, August and September, caused people to fearfully avoid pools and lakes.

Despite losing the use of his legs, FDR was able to return to public service and was elected to the Presidency in 1932. He won re-election in 1936, 1940 and 1944, securing a place in history as the only U.S. President to serve more than two terms.

Dr. Jonas Salk began his research on the poliovirus during FDR's presidency. He began testing a vaccine in 1952 and reported his results in 1953. The vaccine was tested nationwide in 1954 and by 1955, more than four million Americans had been vaccinated.

There were nearly 30,000 cases of polio in the U.S. in 1955. As more Americans were vaccinated, the number of cases dropped dramatically - to less than 6,000 in 1957.

Another researcher, Albert Sabin, developed an oral vaccine for polio in the late 1950s. While the Salk vaccine is used in the United States, the Sabin vaccine is used overseas as it does not require trained healthcare professionals or a sterile injection site.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. became polio-free in 1979 thanks to the vaccine. Polio still exists in other countries, however, so the vaccine is one of the recommended childhood vaccines.

The CDC partners with the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and the United Nations Children's Fund in a public-private partnership to eradicate polio worldwide. Through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more than 2.5 billion children have been immunized and the occurrence of polio has decreased 99% since 1988. According to the Initiative, countries with polio epidemics have decreased from more than 125 in 1988 to four (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan) in 2006. You can view maps that show the progress in eradicating the disease on the Initiative's website.

PhRMA and our member companies have contributed to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative through continuing research on the polio vaccine and through contributions to the Rotary PolioPlus campaign.

There is no doubt of the worldwide suffering and death averted by the availability of the polio vaccine. Since then, vaccines have been developed for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, avian flu, cervical cancer, prostate cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Biopharmaceutical companies are now working to develop vaccines for infectious diseases such as HIV infection, cholera, dengue and malaria as well as numerous cancers and neurological diseases.

Be sure to check out the Innovation and Inaugurations Pinterest board for some interesting pins.

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