In today’s Houston Chronicle, Eric Berger writes about the announcement 50 years ago that a polio vaccine had been successfully tested. He reminds us of the dread of polio outbreaks, and how suddenly that changed:
Mere whispers of an outbreak froze daily life: Swimming pools closed, movie theaters emptied, and front doors were slammed shut in a frenzy, those who recall say, incomparable to anything since the plagues of the Middle Ages.
"I was brought up in a crowded tenement area of Brooklyn, and I remember very clearly my mother locking my brother and I in our house, saying she had heard of a polio outbreak down the block," said Dr. Stanley Schultz, dean of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. "Even though it was the middle of the summer, we didn't mind staying home. We were scared, too."
Then, miraculously, the terror ended. On April 12, 1955, after testing 1.8 million children, scientists announced that a vaccine designed by Dr. Jonas Salk, of the University of Pittsburgh, had proved extraordinarily successful.
Where do ideas like Dr. Salk’s come from? Who knows. For my money, divine inspiration, in some form or fashion, is as likely an explanation as any.