A Drop on the Tongue: Looking Back on Development of the Polio Vaccine

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ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam looks back on the development of the polio vaccine.

ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam

"By the sixties, the vaccine became a drop on the tongue – so easy that polio was been all but eliminated. Can’t wait until COVID-19 becomes just a drop on the tongue," said ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam

ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam looks back on the development of the polio vaccine.

Polio was all around me as a kid growing up in Far Rockaway. It was in every whisper, every newspaper, every mother’s nightmare—the idea that the simple act of going to a swimming pool or a movie could cripple you for life. Those were the stark choices we had to make as kids growing up in the fifties. Going to summer sleepaway camp was suddenly as dangerous as jumping off a cliff. The tragedy was that we kids all knew someone who got it. That’s, in fact, how the March of Dimes mobilized us. We all feared polio and the possibility of a life in an iron lung. So we marched through the neighborhood going from door to door collecting dimes in blue cardboard coin holders. It was no easy task to put those little dimes in the coin pockets.

It made me wonder how many hands it would take to set those dimes free so they could be used to find a cure. But that was someone else’s problem. Our job was to get the dimes. In part, we did it for FDR, who died in 1945 without seeing the cure to come. Then one night, must have been around 1955, our parents piled us into the car for a trip to the 101 police precinct, where they were giving shots of a new vaccine. Mobs of families were in the crowd. Rumor had it that the guy who developed the vaccine, Jonas Salk, was from Rockaway Park, which was close enough to Far Rockaway to make it safe. I think we were the guinea pigs because soon after, the Salk vaccine was mandatory.

Soon, every pediatrician in America was dispensing it. I think even crusty Ed Sullivan put Salk on his TV show…at least that’s how I remember it. So, if he didn’t, he should have. By the sixties, the vaccine became a drop on the tongue – so easy that polio was been all but eliminated. Can’t wait until COVID-19 becomes just a drop on the tongue.

For more of Janet Langsam’s thoughts on ‘this and that’, read her blog at
https://www.thisandthatbyjl.com/

About ArtsWestchester
For more than 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest, private, not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to provide leadership, vision, and support, to ensure the availability, accessibility, and diversity of the arts. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts, exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations, and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building in downtown White Plains.

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Dean Bender
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