In the 1940’s and 50’s children were getting polio at an epidemic rate. Finally, there were vaccines developed by Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. As a kid in the late 50’s, I was fairly unaware that there was a polio epidemic but I do remember getting the vaccine on a sugar cube. I have friends today who had polio as children and who are now re-experiencing polio-like symptoms. The viruses that cause disease among us are very complicated.
Our bodies are able to defeat the influences of viruses and bacteria via a number of different mechanisms [1, 2,3]. In these days of the Covid-19 pandemic we are hearing a lot about antibodies . If we have the right antibodies inside us then our body can kill off an invading virus. It’s all about antibodies and the vaccines that stimulate their development.
“Immunization refers to the artificial creation of immunity by deliberately infecting someone so that the body learns to protect itself” . That’s what the sugar cube did for me. It stimulated the production of specific antibodies and if I ever encountered the polio virus the antibodies killed it and I never knew. I’m so thankful for those tiny guys deep inside me.
Over the last 60 years, polio cases have almost been totally eradicated from the world. Only a few countries report cases. “Although 88% of infants worldwide age 1 or older had received 3 doses of poliovirus vaccines in 2017, that rate of coverage was only 60% in Afghanistan, 40% in Nigeria, and 75% in Pakistan” . There are active programs to increase vaccinations in these countries to finally eliminate this problem. At this moment, there is a large vaccination program in Pakistan as that country has had recent increases in the number of cases [7, 8].
To ease into the topic of immunization, I recommend two fictional resources.
- Fantastic Voyage (film), 20th Century Fox, 1966. Tells the story of scientists in a small submarine who are shrunk to be able to travel in the bloodstream of a patient in order to do micro-surgery. Memorable for the scene where the actor Raquel Welch has to leave the submarine and she is attacked by antibodies who have identified her as a foreign, invading organism.
- The Andromeda Strain (book), Michael Crichton, 1969. Also, film, Universal Pictures, 1971. Deals with issues of immunity when the world is faced with a rapidly mutating alien microorganism.
- Investigating How the Immune System Detects “Hidden” Threats, Technology Networks Limited, September 17, 2020
- Immune Response, Medline Plus, National Library of Medicine, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Why Don’t We Ever Develop Immunity Against the Common Cold?, Technology Networks Limited, November 27, 2017
- Antibody (Serology) Testing for COVID-19: Information for Patients and Consumers, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- What Ever Happened to Polio, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.
- Number of Reported Polio Cases in First Months of 2019 Up From 2018, Einav Keet, Contagion Live, June 07, 2019.
- Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme, End Polio.com, September 18, 2020.
- Where We Work → Pakistan, Polio – Global Eradication Initiative, September 2020.
- Image of a Polio virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.