If you have been following the media coverage of the new vaccines in development for COVID-19, it will be clear that the stakes are high. Very few vaccine trials in history have attracted so much attention, perhaps since polio in the mid-20th century.
A now largely forgotten chapter, summer polio outbreaks invoked terror in parents. Today, restrictions on gatherings and movement in the efforts to control COVID-19 have been a huge strain on society, but in the 1950s, parents locked their children in stifling hot buildings during the summer with windows sealed shut because they were terrified polio would somehow seep through the cracks in the wall.
The development of the polio vaccine in the US in 1955 was a moment of global celebration. Reaching that point involved millions of citizens raising funds to develop the vaccine, political goodwill by the bucket-load and a driven public-private scientific collaboration, with scientist Jonas Salk at the helm. Children across the US were enlisted in one of the largest clinical trials in history.
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