Poliovirus was never that big a killer or paralyzer

“Wild polio virus was never the big killer or paralyzer the public was led to believe it was through the many frightening images shown repeatedly in the 1950s. Dr. Lennette, a well-respected virologist and pioneer of diagnostic virology with the California Department of Health said in reflection on September 1987:

‘Actually, economically the disease wasn’t very important. Secondly, not many cases were seen in this country. There weren’t too many people paralyzed from polio in any one neighborhood, so it never made much of an impact.’

The pictographic and cinematic images of polio that were used to rally the public toward vaccine development and acceptance dropped away after the vaccine campaign began. The public gratefully embraced the vaccine that was believed to have removed the frightful disease.

In order to maintain public belief in the vaccine, especially in light of several serious instances of vaccine-induced paralytic polio, the images of polio in the new, highly vaccinated population had to be deleted. Optimism regarding the vaccine prevailed.

The March of Dimes campaigns that were once designed to impact human fear and emotion transitioned into what we see today as advertising for “working together for stronger, healthier babies”—funding vaccines for infants and pregnant mothers.”

— Suzanne Humphries, MD and Roman Bystrianyk


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