What the Polio Vaccine Can Teach Us About the COVID-19 Vaccine
A Virtual Conversation with Dr. David Oshinsky
Wednesday, February 16, at 7 PM EST
Science Writers in New York is pleased to present Dr. David Oshinsky, director of the Division of Medical Humanities at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a professor in the NYU Department of History. His books include Polio: An American Story, which won both the Pulitzer Prize in History and the Hoover Presidential Book Award, and Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital.
Vaccinations are the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases. They are responsible for the complete eradication of smallpox and the great reduction in cases of measles, polio, and tetanus in many parts of the world. Despite overwhelming evidence of the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations, a growing number of people in the United States and Europe are reluctant to receive recommended vaccinations or refuse them altogether. In the U.S., only 64 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 a number that has persisted for months. Although many have concerns about safety, side effects, or a general mistrust of the government, there is a targeted misinformation campaign as well.
Dr. Oshinsky will talk to SWINY co-chair David Levine (@dlloydlevine) about the parallels between the polio vaccine (which was initially hailed as a miracle) and the COVID-19 vaccine. In an op-ed for CNN, Dr. Oshinsky notes “The Salk trials of 1954 remain the largest public health experiment in American history. More than a million school children participated—some given three doses of the Salk vaccine, others a look-alike placebo. It took a full year to analyze the results in the age before computers, but the results were stunning. “SALK’S VACCINE WORKS” screamed the headlines on April 12, 1955. “POLIO IS CONQUERED.”
Then disaster struck. Within weeks, the miracle vaccine designed to wipe out polio stood accused of causing it. Reports flooded in of newly vaccinated children being rushed to emergency rooms. It turned out that the amazing success of the Salk trials had led the public to demand an immediate release of the vaccine. And the government had quickly relented, allowing five drug companies to ramp up production without proper oversight. The worst offender, Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California, released a vaccine so contaminated with live poliovirus that 164 children were permanently paralyzed and 10 died.
Today, the polio vaccine is recognized worldwide as safe and effective. What lessons can we learn that we can apply to getting more people to take the COVID-19 vaccine?
About Dr. David Oshinsky
David Oshinsky, PhD, is director of the Division of Medical Humanities at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a professor in the NYU Department of History.
In 2009, PBS’ The American Experience aired The Polio Crusade, a documentary based on Oshinsky’s Polio: An American Story, and in 2020 released McCarthy: Power Feeds on Fear, a documentary based on his biography of Joseph McCarthy.
Dr. Oshinsky received the Dean’s Medal from the Bloomberg-Johns Hopkins School of Public Health for his distinguished contributions to the field, and Bill Gates wrote that Olshansky’s polio book strongly influenced his decision to make polio eradication the number one medical priority of the Gates Foundation.
Watch Dr. Oshinksy on CNN talk about the parallels between the polio and the COVID-19 vaccines.
Have a question for Dr. Oshinsky you would like answered? Submit it here!
Wednesday, February 16
7 to 8 pm EST