Finding Inspiration In Crisis

Jonas Salk


PBS has been running a great documentary called “The Polio Crusade.”

If you are looking for hope and inspiration in these dark days of Covid-19, I highly recommend you watch this remarkable program which is part of the American Experience series.
It traces the amazing story of Jonas Salk and his successful quest to develop a polio vaccine.
Salk was an interesting man.
Described as “super ambitious” by his fellow scientists, he was a man who thought big and who had great faith in his ideas.
Of course, like many of the great ones, he had his share of detractors one of whom described him as a garage chemist. But the critics did not dissuade Salk. He was determined to stamp out polio quickly and sure enough he did.
The coronavirus has some eerie parallels with the polio epidemic. Images of people in iron lungs is reminiscent of the images we are seeing of people on respirators and ventilators.
The fear we are experiencing is also reminiscent of the polio era.
Surveys at the time said Americans feared polio almost as much as they feared nuclear war.
They craved  a vaccine and officials at the time were willing to take risks to conquer the disease. They were willing to have their children take a vaccine that nobody was sure would work. Well maybe nobody but Salk.
This was 1954, a different moment in American history, a time when people trusted their government and trusted science.
They were willing to try.
In 1955, when the results of the field trials were released the entire world waited with baited breath.
Factory whistles blew, children cheered and parents wept when  it was learned that the Salk vaccine worked.
Twenty years of efforts. Twenty years of giving dimes to fund research paid off.
It’s an uplifting story.
Today, we need history to repeat itself.
And I’m confident that somewhere, a brilliant scientist or team of scientists, will come up with an effective cure and treatment for the scourge we are experiencing today.
  More than 140 experimental drug treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus are in development worldwide, most in early stages, including 11 already in clinical trials. Counting drugs approved for other diseases, there are 250 clinical trials testing treatments for vaccines for the virus. Hundreds more are planned.
Until then, we wait. We pray. We hope and we support those on the front lines of the coronavirus.
While the coming weeks are predicted to be grim, watching the “Polio Crusade” gives one hope and faith in human ingenuity. There’s an answer out there and it will be found.


  1. Kerry Koen says

    I remember my Mother going out many evenings, knocking on doors and seeking “donations” for the “Mother’s March Against Polio”. I really did not understand exactly why this was so important to her – but she was passionate about it and her friends were as well. When the vaccine was made available, I found her in the kitchen crying one night. Why I asked? Her answer – “you’ll be safe now” and she told me the rest of the story. For years, parents lived in fear that their children might be victims of this disabling disease, and now that fear had been lifted from them. There was an answer “out there” for sure. There will be one for COVID-19 as well, and when it is found let us all remember the hard work that it took to accomplish another “great thing” for mankind.

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