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The Making of Medicine

In the Victory Over Polio, Hope for COVID-19

The victory over polio should give us hope in the battle against COVID-19, two of our researchers say in a timely new editorial.

Many people alive today can’t remember when polio was a threat. We know it as something in the history books — the disease that paralyzed a future president.

The new editorial, by our Bill Petri, MD, PhD, and graduate student Alexandra N. Donlan, reminds us what life was like before Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine in 1955. Summer was polio season, and social distancing was the norm. Movie theaters and swimming pools closed during outbreaks. People turned their heads to talk. Even handling money was frightening.

For many people born after the 1950s, living in that fashion has been hard to imagine. Until our lives changed with the arrival of COVID-19.

Now we find ourselves in another race against disease, as was the case in the 1950s. But the fact that polio seems so distant to us shows that medicine can triumph over even the most terrible illnesses. Polio, in the West, has joined smallpox, measles, mumps, tetanus and more as serious diseases that are no longer serious threats thanks to medical research.

“As the world faces COVID-19,” the scientists conclude, “it is heartening to see the same application of science to public health for [COVID] as the one used for the last 70 years of polio-virus research.”

There are more than 200 potential COVID-19 vaccines in development. Lets wish Dr. Petri and all his fellow researchers the best of luck.

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