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Vaccines, part I

A long time ago, I saw a movie called “The Other Side of the Mountain.” The movie told the story of Jill Kinmont, a ski racer who contracted polio and lost the use of her legs. I was sad for days for afterward, but also relieved to know that Jill Kinmont’s fate wasn’t going to be mine. I wasn’t going to wake up in an iron lung after a ski race, and neither were my friends, because most of the children in my generation had been vaccinated against the Polio virus.

This image shows a polio survivor learning to walk. The image comes from the CDC Public Health Image Library

We were lucky. Before the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, there were over 20,000 cases of polio each year (Public Health Image Library, image 2612). By the time I was born, that number had dropped to 3000. For our generation, Vaccine Day marked the beginning of every school year. We all lined up and got our vaccines, including our sugar cubes soaked with a weakened form of the polio virus.

Today, we have access to an amazing collection of vaccines, many of which have been developed through methods that were unimaginable years ago. In this next series of posts, I plan to write about both the older vaccine technologies – dried stuff from sores, and the newer methods – recombinant proteins and DNA- and describe what the vaccines are and how they induce immunity.


  1. #1 Elf Eye
    August 14, 2008

    I remember those sugar cubes. I probably received mine the first year that the oral vaccine was released, which was in 1962 or 1963 I guess. I would have been seven or eight, and it was a big deal–hundreds of kids lined up at the school, lots of hustle and bustle and excitement. Since then I’ve known a couple of people who contracted polio in the days before the vaccine was available. One was an English professor at Ohio State who lost the use of his legs; the other was an English professor at Radford University who lost the use of her arms. (I wonder if anti-vaccinationist Jenny McCarthy has ever met a polio survivor?)

  2. #2 Susannah
    August 14, 2008

    I remember those days, and the dread that the mere word, “polio”, inspired. My brother got a mild case of it. Very mild; the only residual was a gimpy leg, which kept him out of the army (we had the draft in those days, too), so that was for the good. But many others were not so lucky.

    I made sure my kids were vaccinated a.s.a.p.

  3. #3 Karen
    August 14, 2008

    I, too, vaguely remember the sugar cubes, though I think we only did them one year. After that there was an injected vaccine.

    Back in the late ’70s, I took an introductory anthropology class from an absolutely wonderful professor who I think was a polio survivor. He had braces on both legs. He arrived at the lecture hall pushing a wheelchair with his lecture notes in the seat. He usually then managed to stand for the entire lecture, though once or twice he sat for part of it. One day I had something to discuss with him after class, and we walked back to his office together. It wasn’t more than a couple hundred meters or so, but he had to stop, sit and take a rest.

    He told stories of being ostracized in some of the places where he’d gone to do research, because locals were convinced he was afflicted with a bad spirit, due to his leg braces and his difficulty walking.

    And we’re not supposed to vaccinate our children WHY????

  4. #4 Julie Stahlhut
    August 14, 2008

    Great post regarding polio — but that wasn’t what put Jill Kinmont in a wheelchair. She was paralyzed by a spinal injury in an accident during racing tryouts.

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    August 14, 2008

    Thanks Julie,

    I guess I should have read the book.

  6. #6 Rogue Epidemiologist
    August 15, 2008

    This was a very nice post, and I enjoyed it immensely. Of all the infectious diseases, polio scared me the most as a kid. And I grew up in the 80’s! I think having immigrant clinicians for parents put the fear of these things in me. They saw it all in the Old Country. Now gawd help you if the anti-vaxers find you. I hope they don’t.

  7. #7 ChemSpiderMan
    August 16, 2008

    For a slightly different read about the Polio Virus I recommend this book: “The Virus and the Vaccine: Contaminated Vaccine, Deadly Cancers, and Government Neglect


    It’s a very interesting read..

  8. #8 HCN
    September 12, 2008
  9. #9 Sandra Porter
    September 12, 2008

    Thanks HCN,

    Coincidentally, I’ve just been reading about that incident in a different book. Wow!

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