Coronavirus Vaccine Dreams

Mar 16, 2020 · 145 comments
Joe (Florida)
Thank you for your wonderful article, it brought back memories of an earlier time when science and medicine were respected, when disinformation and lies were not so easily spread and followed as that my are today. I truly hope that we get a vaccine soon and that the naysayers see it's blessings and hope for our future. Thank you, your intelligence shone through your piece and put a weiry mind at ease.
Binne (New Paltz)
I remember when the polio vaccine was rolled out. I was in grade school. We lined up in what was called the General Purpose Room -- lunchroom, big fold-down tables, a small stage (with a piano!) up front. After the shot (there were some tears involved) we all got little clip-on buttons, like the ones they used to give you at the Metropolitan Museum -- ours said "Polio Pioneer." I thought that if we were "pioneers" our buttons really should have a log cabin, or a covered wagon. When I got home, my father wanted to know where I got the injection. "In the General Purpose Room," I said. Seemed like a reasonable answer. When my dad stopped laughing he explained that he wanted to know if I got the needle in the arm, or the bottom.
BB (Washington State)
Remember how Trump undermined vaccinations during his campaign by saying they caused autism. How he undermined and underfunded science his whole Presidency. How he called this crisis a hoax. He has caused loss of life and put Health Care workers and all of us at higher risk by his incompetence and personality disorders.
James (Ireland)
I hope they find a vaccine soon. There is a lot of lies and misinformation about possible treatments for coronavirus. The hue and cry about misinformation and fake news makes me very angry. Mainstream psychiatry is pseudoscientific yet as a mental patient I am subject to its torments. If one whole branch of medicine (psychiatry) can be so corrupt no wonder ordinary people believe conspiracy theories on Facebook. A lot of doctors think they are god anyway and psychiatrist are the most delusional.
Am Brown (Windsor)
Thank you for this. I remember it well. Eisenhower was POTUS and no one called the nationwide vaccination program 'socialist '.
Rmayer (Cincinnati)
Hope you are correct but I fear the willful ignorance and tenacious misinformation will continue. Be ready for the, "I cured the CV with this miracle (fill in the blank)" from the antivax cohort as this pandemic comes and goes in several waves. The arguments against having a concoction they believe vile and evil enter their bodies or the bodies of their children will not stop. All we can hope is minds change when they directly suffer, or, like the too virulent virus, the stupid stops when the meme kills the host.
Lawson (Rye, NH)
True or false: Salk won a Nobel prize. If you answered "true," you are wrong. He never complained nor bragged about his achievement.
Sutter (Sacramento)
I will get the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Liz (Indiana)
Maybe a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine will finally get the anti-vaxxers to shut up.
Mike B (Ridgewood, NJ)
Back in the days of glass syringes and reused needles, yeah, that's right, they reused needles. Each use dulled the point. Nurses would drag the needle over a cotton ball and if it snagged the material it meant it had a BARB in it!! Those that could would sharpen them. That's why when we were kids, shots hurt so MUCH! Today's disposables are super sharp, the more sharp, the less pain.
Richard Stratton (Amelia Island)
i learn so much from people
jediCurmudgeon (West Virginia)
Because of the public pressure to expedite a polio vaccine, the original Salk vaccine was neither fully safe nor effective. Less than 1 week after the vaccine was being given, 7-yr old Susan Pierce of Pocatello, ID, contracted polio. she was placed in an iron lung, and then died. She was the first of 10 deaths and 160 paralysis cases attributed to the new Salk vaccine, in what became know as the Cutter Incident. The problem was 'solved' by adding a fourth filtration step to the vaccine process. This made is safer, but there were warnings that its efficacy could have been compromised. In 1957, a handful of polio cases were reported in children that had been fully immunized. In 1958, that rose to 322 cases (one of which was me). In 1959, it was about 1,100 cases. In 1960, it was decided to switch to the Sabin vaccine (remember the sugar cubes?) and polio was finally diminished. I fully recovered after being partially paralyzed, as many polio patients did. But now I am afflicted with Post Polio Syndrome, as debilitating as the original paralysis. Polio - gone but not forgotten
Make (Oregon)
Antivaxxers. How y'all doing?
PictureBook (Nonlocal)
There is a SARS vaccine that I wish a mainstream and popular newspaper would investigate. It was suggested that it could be used for ring vaccinations. The other vaccine they are working might take 18 months. Getting a vaccine early in the pandemic will do a lot of good, it may be over in the next 18 months as seen in this pandemic excercise.
ABC (Flushing)
1 medical solution is end trade with China. Trade with China is suicide. From birth, Chinese are taught to hate Americans. Chinese use our money to build spy networks, aircraft carriers, concentration camps. After WW3, America will wake up to the stupidity of trade with an aggressive totalitarian brutal military dictatorship. I lived and worked in China 11 years
Richard Schumacher (The Benighted States of America)
I can't wait for Covid-19 anti-vaxxers to appear! They'll be tarred and feathered.
J.S. (Northern California)
Don't tell Jim Carrey this.
proud parent (florida)
Its hard not to be moved by this article tug on heart strings. my mom who is 92 is in her home in fear of infection. My daughter Julia 24 who is severely disabled is at home instead of her adult day we fear could harbor the virus. my Julia was harmed and became disabled at 2 yrs by a vaccine and all the glib detached attaboy praise of brillant scientists does not make up for her lost life . Develop vaccines that truly deliver the Safety levels you claim 1/100000 before unleashing it to the public
Jennifer Bowles (NYC)
The author fails to note that a pocket of Salk’s vaccine lots did cause death and paralyzed many. In his lifetime, Salk called for a continuous and rigorous study of vaccination safety. Interestingly, Salk did not patent his vaccine. Now, the vaccination industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry with no accountability (NVICP). Any person who dare question vaccine safety is harshly criticized by a chorus of fanatical people who forget common decency. Without question the science behind vaccine is wondrous, however, it is our right and our collective responsibility to promote a nuanced conversation—and study—of vaccine safety, and pharmaceutical accountability.
Dr John (Oakland)
We are in a war and the chances of a vaccine being developed before the end of summer is a very long shot. TThe cost of this pandemic is going to be in the trillions Millions are uninsured and the number is growing. Pandemics are not an if but a when,and we have been lucky until now.The next four months will produce millions of cases unless we take action. We will have to treat the nation without the means to do so. We must plan to feed and shelter the unemployed and provide direct payments
Theo (NYC)
When an effective enough vaccine against covid-19 is available, how will herd immunity be attained when there may be a critical mass of willfully ignorant people who will refuse to be vaccinated and vaccinate their children? I don’t think that witnessing the horrors of a pandemic will move anti-vaxers from their irrational beliefs about vaccination. After all, they choose to put their own children (and other children) at risk for measles, diphtheria and polio. I hope there will be the political will to stop this madness - even if it means limiting the personal freedom of those with no sense of responsibility to the greater good.
Jules (PA)
@Joe Very well put. I hope the ignorant vaccine enthusiasts would understand this
turbot (philadelphia)
I asked 2 people, who refused flu vaccine, if they would accept COVID-19 vaccine, were it available. One was a definite "No"; the other thought that it was a very interesting question, and was a possible "Yes".
Ron B (Vancouver Canada)
@turbot Either way in this case , the gene pool will be strengthened by whatever decision is made
turbot (philadelphia)
I asked 2 people, who refused flu vaccine, if they would accept COVID-19 vaccine, were it available. One was a definite "No"; the other thought that it was a very interesting question, and was a possible "".
If one wants to observe the spirit that had been lost, one only need to look at the large fraction of the comments on this article that are complaining about patent protection of a vaccine that doesn't even exist yet. Instead of rejoicing for the efforts that thousands of researchers are making to save millions of lives, people are griping about patent law.
BlueMountainMan (Kingston, NY)
I was born in November of 1955 and don’t understand why I was not given the polio vaccine; I had infantile polio and still have problems from it. So it may well go if/when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.
D Na (Carlsbad, California)
Initially, any coronavirus vaccine would be in limited supply. There have to be medical criteria for who gets the vaccine first. After those criteria are met, perhaps the next order of priority should be to vaccinate people who have completed other medically recommended vaccinations to other diseases.
John Collinge (Bethesda, Md)
I am just old enough to remember the relief of my parents generation when the Salk vaccine finally gave us a means to prevent polio. I started elementary school in 1956 with that gift. I hope that we can be so fortunate with a vaccine for the Covid-19 and I hope that never again will we as a nation succumb to the nonsense of the anti-vaccine element and those who abhor science.
old reprobate (Virginia)
@John Collinge I can vividly remember my mother refusing to let me go swimming as a child because of polio. I got the vaccine soon after it was available but my roommate at college my first year had not and got around on crutches.
trautman (Orton, Ontario)
My late wife Tina was a polio pioneer and they gave her a little button and a card to that effect. She was in the NJ/NY school system. At 74 I tell people now when I was a kid it was TB and polio. The swimming pools. playgrounds closed and we lived in the projects of NJ that had a sprinkler that could be turned on in those hot summer days. No, never happened. Also our mothers if it rained would yell at us to stay away from stagnate water and don't jump in it. Scary on tv and in the newspapers the pictures of people so bad they could not breathe and were to live the rest of their lives in an iron lung. I would imagine some still alive today. The other sad part of the story about the polio vaccine was the infighting over who got the credit men of course and as I remember when the Nobel Prize for medicine was given out the woman who was deeply involved in the development was shut out it was like the atomic bomb a man only thing. By the way many of the major brains on the Manhattan Project were women never heard much of though. Mans World.
Roy Lowenstein (Columbus, Ohio)
One more well-written article that changes no one's mind. Any fully honest argument for vaccines will acknowledge their shortcomings (the ones like flu with widely varying success rates, the ones that have caused damage, the risk of toxic load experienced by babies) and still show most are worthwhile. A fully honest argument against vaccines will acknowledge the successes, like polio, and make the distinctions between vaccines worth taking and those for which reasonable people believing in science could disagree about. I keep waiting for an article that recognizes the shades of gray on this issue. Meanwhile, we pray for an early COVID-19 vaccine and hope it saves many lives without doing much harm.
Robert (Out west)
Hogwash, Ray. Dangerous hogwash.
Gabrielle Rose (Philadelphia, PA)
Yes a vaccine will change the world. Until the next pandemic. This isn’t the first, and it’s not the last.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
Phillip Roth's last novel Nemesis deals with an outbreak of polio in the 1940s. In the way it portrays the ethnic scapegoating surrounding the virus, it is as prescient and relevent as his other novel, the Plot Against America.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@Alan J. Shaw relevant.
tom harrison (seattle)
Now that you have all read this lovely article, read up on the Cutter Incident.
Frederick (Portland OR)
Anyone who refused to get vacinnated for other deadly diseases like the measles (e.g. antivaxers) should not receive high priority for the corona virus vaccine.
Jim Brokaw (California)
I remember the polio vaccine; by my time it was a sugar cube. I contrast the Salk vaccine with today's Big Pharma. How many billions did Dr. Salk make? I wonder how much the developers of the coronavirus will try to extract for their efforts. Perhaps they can ask Sen. Burr for moral guidance, or Trump. I think about Dr. Salk from time to time, and always what I think is what ever happened to this kind of hero? We now have a Hepatitis C vaccine, if you can afford it. Too bad if you can't, or your insurance won't pay... no heros there. How many other 'wonder drugs' are there, where you wonder where the hero is, because the drug costs a good month's pay for a course of treatment? Big Pharma will say "well, we have to cover all our development costs". Of course, they also cover very high profit margins, and all the advertising and marketing expenses. "Ask your doctor about..." should be banned; no advertising to the general public about any prescription medicines. Maybe that would lower the drug costs just a tiny bit... it sure would make TV watching more pleasant. If the side effects warning takes more than half the commercial, you probably are better off without it, anyway. About two years after the coronavirus comes out, there will be antivaxxers protesting, complaining it made them stupid, or something, just watch. We don't have heros, maybe because so often we don't deserve them.
Dennis Embry (Tucson)
Salk did not receive royalties for the polio vaccine.
Ann (Central VA)
@Jim Brokaw oh wow, i had completely forgotten about the sugar cube!
slim1921 (Charlotte NC)
I'm 64 and I have the most vivid memory of standing in a line at the local high school (probably around 1960) waiting to get a little sugar cube that had the polio vaccine in it. And I remember to this day being upset that I could only get one. I little white sugar cube and I seem to recall there was a little red line in it (can't find any pictures or they're all in black and white :)
Matthew (NJ)
The science of vaccines and their creation/manufacture is so old at this point it begs the question of why it is such a long-drawn out process. Are the bugs becoming that more sophisticated to defeat? And why is it a country-dependent thing? Has China really not gotten almost to the finish line on a vaccine? If so, would they really not share what they've learned to date? Surely humanity can do better.
Jim Wallis (Davis, California)
@Matthew Vaccines are frequently easy to make. Unfortunately the accompanying regulatory process has become quite difficult since Salk's time. Another layer of difficulty is that many manufacturers want to use a proprietary technique so that they can seek patent protection on the process. Good for business, but novel techniques tend to get tangled up in the regulatory process. The regulatory agencies, themselves, have certain prejudices which limit technological options. It is simultaneously a simple yet arcane process. Maddening, Really.
N. B. (Massachusetts)
If a vaccine comes a year from now it will be too late. Millions of people will have been thrown out of work and/or lost their homes or apartments. The vaccine will not reverse this and no amount of financial stimulus (which is somehow supposed to be raised by taxing that same moribund economy?) will reverse this. We’ll be needing to invest in homeless shelters and food banks and psychiatric hospitals, not ventilators.
Jan Lipert (Ipswich MA)
As a child, I was terrified of getting polio; I would wake up every morning wondering if today was the day that I caught polio. Parents lived in fear for their children, afraid to let them outside in the summer and autumn. We lived under a great, dark shadow until Salk's vaccine was announced. We Wyndorf kids were among the first in line to get the shots. Afterward, we walked outside into a different, less menacing sunshine. A lifetime of fear was lifted from our young shoulders and it felt like FREEDOM. As long as I live, I'll never forget that feeling of terror, nor of the freedom I felt after being vaccinated!
Kathleen Finan (Lisle IL)
I’d love to see a yearly announcement of “new flu vaccine availability” through major media outlets. Maybe a celebratory tone?? It could become a regular news event that people would anticipate every year and another opportunity to educate the public on herd immunity. We will definitely celebrate worldwide when an effective coronavirus vaccine is released, but why not celebrate vaccines and public health in general with a special day? If we can have National Ice Cream Day, we can have National Vaccination and Public Health Day.
P.C.Chapman (Atlanta, GA)
I was born before the Salk polio vaccine was deployed. I contracted polio in October 1950. I was lucky in that it wasn't Type 3, iron lung severe. I never felt second to anyone and if marginalized that individual ended up in the nearest ditch. I wonder how many of the anti-vaccine people who make money from their virulent stance will swallow hard and get a shot now that, as written, people are dying? Someone was quoted: "You can't spin death">
Eddie (anywhere)
My grandmother was 6 years old and living in Council Bluffs, Iowa when she got the 2018 flu. She described pressing herself against an unheated wall as the only solution to relieve her fever. About 30 years later, now living near Washington D.C., she went from one hospital to another to find one that would admit her first born child after the child developed polio. That child was my mother. My grandmother and mother worshipped Jonas Salk and they made sure that their offspring were first in line for vaccinations. This time, I think that the anti-vaxers should be last in line.
Eddie (anywhere)
@Eddie Correction: 1918 flu
Stephen Rinsler (Arden, NC)
Vaccines are used to stimulate protective antibody responses. This process is called ACTIVE immunization. Until one is available, we might benefit from use of convalescent sera from individuals who have recovered from COVID -19 infections. This is PASSIVE immunization and only provides a temporary immunity, but might be a valuable way of “flattening the curve” and buy enough time for vaccines and effective drugs to be developed and put into use. Stephen Rinsler, MD
Jim Wallis (Davis, California)
@Stephen Rinsler I believe this is being tried. But remember, CMI is also important in immunity to viruses.
Memo to all: you can't cherry-pick science, either. Seems that the public is more afraid of death by coronavirus than death caused by a planet turned inhospitable to life.
Anne Squire (Walnut Creek, CA)
I’ll feel better when there’s a reliable, easily obtainable vaccine AND when we fully understand how this virus originated and how to prevent similar pandemics in the future. The list of required vaccines seems to be getting longer and longer at a quicker rate, predicated on need rather than scientific breakthroughs.
William (Apple Valley Ca)
Dr Salk was asked in a press conference after the vaccine was introduced. The question was to patent the vaccine. Dr Salk was stunned. He responded that is it's similar to patenting the air or water. We lost some "humanity" over the past 60 years. Respect for Jonas and Shame on our culture: "de-evolution"
zela (Bucks Co.)
@William One of the historical accounts of the polio vaccine development is entitled "Patenting the Sun" by Jane S. Smith. Perhaps a good read today. Thanks for the reminder of who really should possess the benefits of science.
ABC (Flushing)
@William Congress gave Salk an award of a pathetic 10,000 USD. My physician father told me.
David (Oak Lawn)
This is a great reminder to the anti-vaxxers and Flat Earthers (one prominent proponent of the theory recently died while testing out his theory with a rocket) that science is a friend. It may be our best friend. Something happened when the war on terror caused people to be paranoid at the same time the Internet bloomed with anxious, fearful conspiracy theorists. While skepticism is also a good part of science, too much and one's open mind lets the brain fall out. Science is hard and so populist types tend to doubt the expertise of scientists, as it is an elite profession requiring many years of training. But scientists are not interested in the elite, only the pursuit of knowledge and using that knowledge to help mankind.
tom harrison (seattle)
@David - A great reminder might be the Cutter Incident in which 50,000 U.S. children were given polio by mistake. You can read all about it on the CDC website by searching about vaccines and related deaths. :)) As for the expertise of scientists? They are what got us into all of this global warming to begin with by creating fossil-fuel burning engines, plastic, etc. I should listen to these people? :)) Or should I listen to big pharma when it creates heroin telling everyone that it is safer than morphine and it gets sold over the counter in baby cough syrup? Or that Oxys are not habit forming? My government is not on my side. Never has been, never will be. My government has no problem lying to start a war and they would have no problem lying about anything under the sun.
proud parent (florida)
science is our friend, agreed! it is hard too, agreed. populists as you state are the doubters of science whose head has fallen out because they question too much, disagree. many people who
Alex (Sag harbor)
@David Nice. Way to blame anti-vaxxers when there's not even a vaccine available. But they do make such convenient scapegoats, don't they. Very scientific of you.
Bill (Grosse Pointe, MI)
This article should encourage people to read Oshinsky's book about polio, which would correct a number of inaccuracies expressed here. Wonderful work of science history. For example - none of this would have happened as fast as it did if FDR did not come down with polio. But recent analyses of his medical history indicates that although he might have had polio, he was more likely to have had a different disease. Great read if you want to learn the whole story of Salk and Sabin and the development of the two different polio vaccines.
Observer (Canada)
Medicine is a business in America. Is there money in producing vaccines? Pharma tycoons don't want to invest money on low return products. And people still chant "No Big Government" in USA. Hands off. So government will not take over the responsibility of development and production of life saving vaccines.
Jim Wallis (Davis, California)
@Observer Oh, God. Government developing a vaccine? It's not THAT easy!!! The actual problem is Government getting in the way of developing vaccines. Plenty of people would be happy to do that work.
Maizie Lucille James (NYC)
I remember this, the day I had my polio vaccination when I was in second grade when the first round of polio vaccines were given at my neighborhood school, spring 1955.  We were lined up in the hallways while health care workers from state agencies, worked behind long tables adjacent the nurse's office, busily organizing and arranging their immunization instruments.   In those days, nurses wore crisp white starched uniforms and caps, and were accompanied by a male doctor.  Theirs was a  'stanch', no fuss demeanor, far more formal than today.  We children were quiet standing in the long lines, obedient to the nurses instructions.  The truth is, we stood "silent" because we were petrified despite assurances that our vaccination shots, "will not hurt".  Strange.   Although it was the doctor who actually gave me the dreaded shot, I recall being more afraid of the stalwart nurses, than the kind, older doctor. The administration of the polio vaccine was quite an undertaking that first year. There was mass efforts by gov't, board of education, and health agencies to educate parents, teachers, and community about the importance of this vaccine. Thanks to the medical research by Jonas Salk which led to the development of the polio vaccine, access to vaccines has all but eradicated this once crippling disease. Let's hope medical scientist to will work swiftly to develop a vaccine to fight Covid-19 and make available an immunization for all.  We did it once, we can do it again.
tom harrison (seattle)
@Maizie Lucille James - Fortunately for you, you were not one of the kids in the Cutter Incident. There was plenty of good reason to be petrified.
Engineer (Salem, MA)
I was born in 1955 (when the polio vaccine first became available). In my neighborhood outside Boston in the 60's, there were children only a few years older than I was hobbling around with crutches from polio. And the parents still talked abut how they dreaded each summer in the era before the vaccine as they waited with dread to see which children would get sick. The anti-vaxers are crazy but they are part of a much larger movement to discredit science and reduce trust in our institutions ably led by Trump, his cronies, the GOP, the Russians, and Trump News.
Alex (Sag harbor)
The vaccine agenda. Always lurking beneath the surface.
Laurence Carbonetti (Vermont)
@Alex I would like to make a "modest proposal." Anyone wanting the COVID-19 vaccine once it is developed must be up-to-date on all vaccines which are suitable for them, based on a doctor's analysis.
Lisa S (Wayne, PA)
@Alex Ah yes, that life-saving, health-preserving vaccine agenda. How terrible. Those who develop vaccines have done more for humanity than anybody else that ever lived, full stop. They are heroes. With this pandemic everyone will remember that. The antivaxxers--villains of the worst order--will be marginalized once more. Thank Goodness.
Mike Healy (Wanaque NJ)
The anti vaxx agenda is something to behold. A few crackpots are making millions producing “literature” that is gobbled up by misinformed sheeple. The lobbying and strong arming by this very loud, yet tiny minority has been horrifying.
Frank O (texas)
I'm stunned that anti-vaxxers, in this time of terrible crisis, still can be found spreading their disinformation on the internet and airwaves, while adding Covid-19 to their list of "hoaxes". Maybe one tiny silver lining in all this will be that they may be forced off the air and internet by the Public health Service. Meanwhile, Alex Jones and Jim Bakker are peddling fake Covid-19 "cures". Lock 'em up!
Data (NYC)
Neither Salk nor Sabin invented the Polio vaccine That accolade goes to the real pioneer Hilary Koprowski--look it up. In fact, the present-day live attenuated vaccine stems from his discovery and work in the Congo in the '50s. He worked at Lederle labs and then Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. He was Jewish and from Poland--the government wanted to highlight someone more "white American male" so they supported a different horse (March of Dimes). When you describe American ingenuity, look beyond the headlines.
Alan J. Shaw (Bayside, NY)
@Data Salk and Sabin were also Jewish, so what is your point about the the different "horse" of the March of Dimes?
Chris (SW PA)
The world will unfortunately still be primarily populated by science deniers who get to vote and thus keep putting cult leaders in charge.
S.Mitchell (Mich.)
If and when the time arrives with a vaccine, let us hope we so not hear about no vacciners as we do now.
Mary Balkovetz MD (Birmingham, Alabama)
What a nice essay, thank you! I hope those of us who really dislike getting shots will read this. Who really likes shots? I really like vaccinations!
Scott (Charlottesville)
Dr Salk tested the vaccine initially on himself and his own children. He did not patent it, believing that profiting from his gift to mankind would be immoral. A true American hero. Can one even think of a greater?
KJ (Tennessee)
I hope all of those who have been caught up in the "natural" mania — including those who refuse vaccines for themselves and their children — come to realize that one of the advantages of modern technology is that it keeps us cleaner, safer, and healthier. Would you scorn soap or toilet paper or air conditioning or the internet, or refuse dental care, because it's a modern convenience? If not, vaccinate.
Ms. Pea (Seattle)
It's a pretty good bet that if the US is the first nation to develop a coronavirus vaccine, Trump will take credit for it. It's just a hunch...
Anne (Bucks County, PA)
I read this, and it's great, wonderful. But then I remember it's 2020 in the United States. The vaccine will only be great if everyone can GET the vaccine: supply and availability, affordability, and prerequisites for getting it cannot be assumed to be in place.
Scientist (CA)
Excellent article. NYT, please move it to front and center. The need for reminders of what science and vaccines do for people's physical and mental health (and the economy!) is more needed than ever.
Vicki Farrar (Albuquerque, NM)
Dr. Salk's vaccine probably prevented me from getting polio. I entered kindergarten in 1955 and remember the polio shots at school, followed by the liquid Sabin vaccine in the years that followed. I proudly attended Jonas Salk Elementary School in Anaheim, California from 1957-1961. These were times when everyone, even the children, understood the value of science in our lives.
cjw (Acton, MA)
Thank you, Dr Klass. As one who has worked on several vaccines during my career, including the meningitis vaccines (both ACWY and B) to which you refer, I also look forward eagerly to the day when we have an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. At that point, however, we will encounter another issue for which the public is presently unprepared. Vaccines are delicate biological products that are made in limited runs in very specialized facilities. Currently, the national vaccine manufacturing capacity available for this is limited in the face of the gargantuan challenge presented by coronavirus. It is not reasonable that the required capacity should be found largely by ceasing to make vaccines against other pathogens, as they, too, can represent threats to the population and, in any case, the facilities would likely require major refitting of equipment. Considering that the priming course of the COVID-19 vaccine may well consist of 2 doses, this means that most people will not receive the vaccine shortly after it becomes available, but will have to wait for at least months, and perhaps over a year. The first doses clearly should go to medical staff and others at greatest risk, to be followed by other groups in their reverse order of susceptibility. I hope that the administration will explain this reality clearly, and continue necessary preacautions until a sufficient fraction of the population has been vaccinated as to provide a robust herd immunity.
@cjw: Do not worry. Trump is from the government, and he is here to help. Yegads. Your concerns sound legitimate, but one doubts them as foundations against vaccinations.
Robert Peak (Fort Worth)
Salk, not just an American hero, but a hero for the world. He was an exemplary citizen and medical warrior who changed the path of humankind. Yet, rabid anti-vaccination pogroms, such as those seen in Pakistan, where, incredulously, polio still has a foothold, infiltrate even our society. There is a new face to the medical warrior, and that is Dr Anthony Fauci. There are others like him, working tirelessly as we sequester ourselves in hopes of a treatment or vaccination against this new scourge. I just wish more of our best and brightest follow in the footsteps of these legends.
Bruce Williams (Chicago)
Some were skeptical of smallpox vaccination, as it came out of the Ottoman Empire, but it saved far more, even than the blessed polio vaccine. After SARS-cov, in 2003, we had a chance to move in that direction and it was blown, not just here and in China, for 16 years. It was too easy to forget, then.
Darrel (Colorado)
Having been born in 1953, the timing of the polio vaccine was personally quite fortunate. I do hope, as Dr.Kass mentions, that our current crisis results in everyone taking the normal flu seasons more seriously in years to come. That includes: - Taking personal/community responsibility for basic hygiene that reduces spread. - National requirements for paid sick leave. - Funding and an enhanced global effort to develop more effective broad-spectrum viral vaccines. Just the first two, immediately achievable, will almost certainly save thousands of lives and prevent 10s of thousands of serious/critical illness cases every year in the US alone.
Kathleen Hills (Duluth MN)
This is in no way comparable to polio and small pox with respect to a vaccine. These types of viruses mutate and pop up every few years and we can't keep ahead of them with vaccine. It will likely go the way of West Nile, Zika, and H1N1, when we have had sufficient exposure to give the bulk of the population some level of immunity. No guarantees though! However, we will never eliminate lethal viruses and need to direct our efforts at keeping them out of our bodies as a first line of defense.
Kathleen Hills (Duluth MN)
@Kathleen Hills If a properly fitted virus-filtering mask was a part of every person's standard equipment, we could drastically reduce infections. Yes, it might be expensive and inconvenient, but nothing compared to what we face now. Surely that technology is not beyond our capability.
Jim Wallis (Davis, California)
@Kathleen Hills Would that it were so simple...
Alternate Identity (East of Eden, in the land of Nod)
This is what polio did to my family. Although I was there I don't remember it, but this is what I was told. September 11th 1953. It was a Friday. My father left for work that morning, and everything was fine. When he came home that night I was in my playpen screaming and my mother was on the floor dead. She had died of polio. It broke my father. He took to drinking and died some years later, suicide on the installment plan. I was left to fend for myself. Doctor Jonas Salk headed up the research which produced the first effective polio vaccine. He refused to patent it. He could have cashed in but he did not. His, and the later Sabin oral vaccine stopped polio in its tracks. With the COVID vaccine - and there will be one, it is only a question of when - we can only hope the developers have a similar public spirit. We can hope.
Sara (New York)
@Alternate Identity I'm so, so sorry for what you and your family went through. Reading this, I was just thinking how fortunate I was to be born just a year later, and how terrified my parents must have been for my older two siblings. I never heard them discuss it but they were Republicans who were never skeptical of science.
PDP (Omaha)
Thank you for this. You’ve articulated my thoughts much more eloquently than I ever could. Years ago, I was involved in the care of a child who died of staphylococcal super-infection of chicken pox, after being intentionally exposed at a “chicken pox party” by his anti-vaccine parents. It was a horrible, tragic, and completely preventable death. Modern western medicine is not perfect, but vaccines are truly one of the great miracles of medical science. It breaks my heart when people won’t take advantage of them.
Howie Lisnoff (Massachusetts)
Nicely done, Dr. Klass. In the midst of this pandemic, I thought of Jonas Salk and his fellow researchers who developed the polio vaccine and removed the fear and loathing that had gripped us, especially during the summers of the 1950s. I also thought of going door-to-door in my neighborhood during that same period to collect for the March of Dimes. Jonas Salk was selfless and the times were so different.
Judith Beatty (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
In 1949, six years before the vaccine, I was stricken with polio, paralyzed from the neck down, and in an iron lung. My family was quarantined; no one knew how the virus spread. I spent 5 months in the hospital in partial recovery and have spent the 70 years since then dealing with the aftereffects. I'm now wondering if parents who think that deliberately exposing their children to vaccine-preventable diseases, because it will give them "natural immunity," may be having second thoughts.
Scott (Mn)
Soon after the vaccine is made available for mass inoculation penalties should be instituted on people who refuse treatment for themselves or their dependents. They should be made personally responsible for all costs for their treatment and not whatever health insurance they might have. People need to realize that making Wrong-headed decisions have consequences.
LI (New York)
Please also make vaccine manufacturers responsible for death and disability caused by their products. In 1986, pharmaceutical companies making childhood vaccines were excused from liability for their products. After that, that number of vaccines in the childhood schedule has almost tripled. The same companies that are paying billions, yes billions, in fines for other products they made that were found to be unsafe are able to make vaccines that are in many cases mandated without liability. All these comments are very rosy about the history of polio etc. but there is another side to this story. Many so called anti-vaxxers are actually ex-vaxxers whose children have suffered grievous injuries or death from vaccines. Their stories are rarely covered as if they do not count.
Anonymous Bosch (Atl, GA)
In 2001 a number of Georgia Republicans decided that it would be a good idea to weaken our state's emergency vaccination laws. The minority leader of the state senate at the time, Dr. Tom Price (yes, that Dr. Tom Price) came to my office to offer his help in defeating his own misled colleagues. My father, a gruff veteran of the Pacific War, U.S. Public Health Service, and 50 years of medical practice, happened to be Doctor of the Day for the General Assembly. I introduced the two, who hit it off well (Dad was a staunch Republican). "Doctor," Sen. Price asked, "How can anyone be against vaccination?" My father growled back "Because they never watched a child die from diphtheria, that's how!" Doctors know their stuff. Dad is gone now, but Dr. Price still preaches the wisdom of vaccination. Good for him!
Ann R (Columbia, MD)
We had a close family friend who contracted polio shortly after she gave birth to twins; there was no question my sister and I would get the vaccine once it became available. I’m guessing there were people who opted out of vaccinating their children, but I remember standing in line at school with all my classmates, one by one getting a sugar cube with a pink dot on it.
Shawn (Montana)
@Ann R My mother a WW2 nurse got Polio when I was 3 years old. Most of my grandchildren are Not immunized which drives me Nuts. Their Grandmother has Shingles I got the Shingles vaccination(s) as soon as they became available. I also stood in line at school the first round was an injection.n
Jane Do (San Jose, CA USA)
Dr. Klass, You are a trustworthy source for so many of us. So much of the coverage has been about avoiding the virus by social distancing and hand washing, but I haven't seen as much on what happens if you think you get it. Obviously the first step is to talk to one's physician. But maybe you can write about the experience of contracting it. I know you won't write a sensational story but a fact-based one. Thank you.
IN (New York)
Let us pray for the safe and speedy development of the Coronavirus vaccine and in the meantime the quick use of extant antiviral medicines in trials and then their general deployment. This must hopefully happen very soon to mitigate this crisis, bring back hope, allay fears, and lead to the return to normalcy.
William Migicovsky (Montreal)
Once a vaccine is found, what is the over/under on how long until someone complains/sues about it?
himillermd (Stanford, CA)
Before you get too wistful about the prospect of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in the near future, do you have any idea how many kids were tested before the Salk vaccine was approved? 623,972 ( How about more recent vaccines, like those to prevent rotavirus, HPV, or shingles vaccines? All in the tens of thousands, because the regulatory bar is very high for vaccines that will potentially be administered to hundreds of millions of healthy people. Clinical trials of that magnitude cannot be done quickly. See
Robert Thurer (Boston, MA)
I remember well being one of the (I think) millions of children who were part of a large randomized controlled trial of the Salk vaccine. I was convinced that I had gotten the real thing because the shot hurt but it turned out I was in the placebo group. Thankfully I did not get polio (as did at least one of my classmates) and received the actual vaccine a year later. I still have my "Polio Pioneer" button.
Ron Tyler (Calgary Alberta)
Similar to Salk, the inventors of insulin which completely transformed the treatment of diabetes, Canadian Frederick Banting and his co-discover American Charles Best, sold the patent for $1 to the University of Toronto. Not much chance of a similar selfless gift like that happening these days.
br (NY)
@Ron Tyler And none of the money that came from selling the insulin went back into basic science research at universities - it all went into private pockets. That's a good outcome? Nowadays, government-funded research that leads to inventions is patented, then licensed. Those licenses (which only have value because they are patent-protected) have produced billions of dollars over the years that go back to the universities and the labs that do the research.
Pasdelieurhonequenous (Salish)
We will soon find out if this spirit is still alive and well: ________________________________________________ Salk did not patent his vaccine. On April 12, 1955, the day the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow interviewed its creator and asked who owned the patent. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk in light of the millions of charitable donations raised by the March of Dimes that funded the vaccine’s research and field testing. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Lawyers for the foundation had investigated the possibility of patenting the vaccine but did not pursue it, in part because of Salk’s reluctance.
SR (Bronx, NY)
This is Big Pharma we're talking about. Hope that they'll do the right thing, but you may as well End The Patent instead to avoid wondering whether they'll do the wrong. We can HOPE megacorps won't hoard frivolous patents on digital-video formats or critical ones on clean energy tech and needed medicines...or we can give the fruits and rights of invention and manufacture to the people.
Hisham Oumlil (New York)
Thank you sir. I grew up in Morocco where religion is part of our education. Unlike what most people assume or misunderstand about the teaching, one thing that was evident and repetitive is that anyone who believes in life should pursue science as integral part of the faith, and that for each disease there is a cure to be found. Sadly, that part of the world ( Middle East/North Africa) that revolutionized science at one time went into a deep sleep and a long era of conspiracy theories, and recently the west that is seeing a tragic miseducation and right wing media manipulation of its people.
br (NY)
@Hisham Oumlil Unfortunately anti-science dogma and misunderstanding crosses the political divide; the right does not have a monopoly on it, at least in the US.
SA (01066)
I remember all-too-well the time when the polio epidemic had kids like me scared half to death. We had no idea what was going on or how/whether we would be saved from the iron lung or the cemetery. We could tell that our parents were afraid, too. Trying somehow to be the ones who would be spared on our block of very modest row houses, some of us would hold our breath as the school bus went by any busy cross street in Queens on the way to PS whatever-the-number was. Then the Salk vaccine was announced, and immediately we heard that there would be very few doses available at first. It was the days of what is now called "old school" medicine. Our family doctor, whom we called "Uncle Murray," got enough vaccine for just four people in those early days of fear and now mixed with hope. Dr. Uncle Murray gave two doses to his own children, and the other two went to my sister and me. Our lives were saved, and our expectations were set about how the healthcare system would save us it did within a fairly short time. Now those expectations about healthcare and about relationships between doctors and patients are pretty much shattered for most folks. In such a corporatized and perhaps necessarily impersonal system of medical care, it's no wonder some people have become cynical about vaccines.
Remembers History (Florida)
@SA I was in the first cohort of children to receive the polio vaccine. Public health workers fanned out to all the public schools in America. Before that moment, parents everywhere lived in terror that their children would get this disease. My uncle had polio. My husband's neighbors and best friends on both sides of the house where he lived had polio. Almost every family in America was touched by this disease. And now -- it is re-emerging in countries where public health workers are killed for trying to bring the vaccine to vulnerable children. Here in America, the "anti-vaxx" movement fights to avoid having their children vaccinated. It makes me weep.
N.G. Krishnan (Bangalore, India)
I recall vividly the saga of Salk and Sabin Polio vaccine development involving America and Russia during the peak of cold war in the days of print media. It was head line news of the public conflict between Two U.S. virologists, Jonas Salk of the University of Pittsburgh and Albert B. Sabin of the University of Cincinnati most prominent researchers on the polio vaccine. Salk vaccine was the first polio vaccine to receive approval of the U.S. government, and was used until 1961 in America, when the Sabin vaccine was recommended to replace it. Sabin publicly disagreed with Salk and his killed vaccine, worked on creating a vaccine with live, attenuated vaccines. Despite Cold War tensions with the clearance of the FBI, Sabin was able to test his attenuated vaccine when funding in America was declined. Subsequently the Sabin–Chumakov vaccine was determined to be safe and effective. The documented achievement of the Sabin–Chumakov collaboration eventually trumped the ideological differences of the Cold War. Their oral live-virus vaccine became federally licensed in 1962, and used to eliminate polio globally, replacing the Salk vaccine.
N.G. Krishnan (Bangalore, India)
It’s most likely the holy grail of Covid 19 vaccine will be on Messenger RNA (mRNA), a pivotal molecule of life, involved in almost all aspects of cell biology today. As the subject of basic and applied research for more than 5 decades, mRNA is sharply focus as a potentially powerful drug. Synthetic mRNA can be engineered to resemble mature and processed mRNA molecules as they occur naturally. Recent advances addressed challenges inherent to this drug class and provided the basis for a broad spectrum of applications This genome engineering is rapidly emerging into pharmaceutical development possibly signaling the end of attenuated virus vaccines. “mRNA-based therapeutics — developing a new class of drugs”. .
Ron A (NJ)
@N.G. Krishnan It would certainly jump-start vaccine development for future diseases if this pans out. The first mRNA vaccine hoping to get FDA clearance is now underway with human trials for Covid-19. Best of luck for us all. [®i_id=66870669]
S B (San Francisco)
They didn’t have anti-vaxxers in 1955!
Carla (Berkeley, CA)
@S B Actually, there is an important story about community vaccine rejection in Leicester in the 1800s and the efficacy of quarantine rather than vaccination for controlling small pox.
joan williams (canada)
@S B They were grateful that thousands of children would no longer die or be disabled!
Tasha (Bay Area)
@Carla Please clarify - are you saying that quarantine would have been better than vaccination for smallpox?
Douglas Klein (Ft Lauderdale)
Great article, but all the anti vaccine nut jobs will be out there with their conspiracy rants, government take overs and the Fox contingent blaming democrats for infecting their children. If we do develop a vaccine, the we need to take care of the anti vaccine idiots , religious nut jobs and the parents who take their kids and others off the grid . Vaccines have to be made non political and free to the whole country. If you refuse to vaccinate your kids or yourselves, there has to be a very heavy price to pay for endangering the lives of others.
Shonun (Portland OR)
@Douglas Klein >>> Vaccines have to be made non political and free to the whole country. I agree, and I wish the situation was as many commenters here can remember from their school days in the 60s and 70s. It may be proven wrong, which would be amazing, but Big-Wall-Street-Pharma today is going to do their best to recoup their research investment in the vaccine (and recoup their current losses in the market) through charging high prices which the government will have to subsidize, which ultimately means it will be coming out of the taxpayers' pockets... if we have an economy that even modestly recovers 12 months (or more) from now.
LI (New York)
Interesting how you don’t think having Pharma as the biggest lobbyist in Washington, the biggest advertiser on television in non election years, undisclosed ghostwriter in medical journals and, best of all, manufacturer of liability free vaccines which are now mandated—gold rush!— merits any consideration. Our kids are the most vaccinated in the developed world. They rank at the bottom or dead last on many international measures of health for that population. Many developed countries vaccinate later and with fewer shots; their kids are healthier.
Slipping Glimpser (Seattle)
@Douglas Klein Well, should they refuse, the price for some of them will be death, and others life-long breathing compromised. That will strongly encourage other nutters to vaccinate.
Alexander Grimwade (Philadelphia, PA)
My mother was a nurse in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the 1930's and describes in her diary her devastation and heartbreak at the deaths of small children from diphtheria. I doubt if many people even know what the "D" in DPT or TDaP stands for, and what a horrible disease it was, killing tens of thousands of children in the US every year. Deaths have been reduced to virtually zero through universal vaccination.
Joe H (NC)
As a pediatrician training in the early 1980s, I don't think we should ever forget the dramatic benefit from the meningitis vaccine developed by Drs. Robbins and Schneerson. In addition to meningitis, it also helps prevents millions of cases of bacterial pneumonia, sepsis, arthritis, and epiglottitis.
backfull (Orygun)
A reasonable piece about whether or not to immunize against covid19, assuming a vaccine becomes available. However, more emphasis should be given to the reality that flu vaccines only mitigate influenza and come nowhere near to eliminating it. Moreover, if the common cold and covid are both coronaviruses, why do we not in the 21st century have a cold vaccine? Along with the plethora of missteps made by the Trump administration, overselling a covid vaccine panacea may prove to be another one.
Joseph (SF, CA)
How is the new COVID-19 vaccine tested? Do research subjects have to be given the actual virus after the vaccine is allowed to work in their bodies to see if they remain protected?
Remembers History (Florida)
@Joseph 45 brave people are now testing the first possible vaccine. It doesn't contain any virus -- either live or killed. I don't remember the details well enough to describe them, but it has something to do with causing the person's genes to develop an immune response. One of those testing the vaccine was on TV -- he has children -- and he said his motive was to do something to help save others. His children know that he is doing this, and are proud of him.
Carla (Berkeley, CA)
@Joseph Vaccines are never tested for efficacy against infection in clinical trial (this would present some ethical challenges). Efficacy is determined by antibody production alone. Sadly, actual data on efficacy can only come after years. Everyone who receives new vaccines is a test subject. One can hope that there is someone actively involved in following "post-marketing" data.
Carla (Berkeley, CA)
@mb What is the lie? The NIH was supposed to be the agency performing post-marketing safety studies but they recently admitted in court that they have never once done this. The WHO also recently admitted at their meeting on vaccines, videotape available to the public if you want to watch, that there are no good systems in place. Why is everyone here so incredibly convinced of facts that they clearly can not support?
DG (Ithaca, New York)
I wish those who fear vaccines could have witnessed the sense of relief and even joy when the Salk vaccine became available in 1955. I remember my mother dressing me in my party dress and patent leather shoes to go to our family doctor for my "polio shot." The angst that polio provoked, the fear that your child might be paralyzed or even killed by polio, became an historical artifact. May the best minds in virology and immunology develop a vaccine that protects us all against the novel coronavirus. Godspeed to them all.
joan williams (canada)
@DG I also remember, here in Canada getting dressed up with my mother to the church basement to have my "pink sugar" lump and vaccine. It was a great day. My father still remembers half his small school out with polio. Those not willing to get this new vaccine when it comes, had better stay well away from any of my family, friends, or any health care worker and ER!
Matt (Arkansas)
@DG Yes. 200 million people died from Smallpox in the 20th century alone. It is thought to have been the greatest cause of human suffering of any single entity. And thanks to a vaccine, it only exists in a couple of deep freezes.
Ron A (NJ)
Thanks for this good read. It was really an amazing vaccine back in the 50s and I'm so glad I was born just after it was developed. Those images of polio-stricken kids on the Jerry Lewis telethon every year were really heartbreaking.
TAR (Houston, Texas)
I have no doubt that many anti-vaxers will continue their stance. But I bet some will change their minds. And I also wonder how other people will react to anti-vaxxers, now that the entire country sees what can happen when disease spreads. Americans have indeed forgotten and have had the luxury of being able to not vaccinate.
Carla (Berkeley, CA)
@TAR I don't know what the anti-vaxxer stance that you refer to is but I know a lot of people who would like to see safety studies performed and have concerns about the numbers of adverse reactions, some very serious (mostly people who have either been injured themselves or had children who have been injured). Nobody who relies on science would dare claim that vaccines are safe. The discussion is about whether the harm is justified.
Carla (Berkeley, CA)
@mb I don't know what world you're living in but I've searched for these conclusive safety studies and have not found long-term, control group testing for vaccine safety (basic scientific standards) but since you are clearly well-informed, I'd appreciate a list of the studies that you rely on. I have also spoken with a high-level public health official about this issue and they clearly admitted that they don't have the safety data, though they believe that the harm is worthwhile. I guess you know more than they do so please share.
EA (out west)
@Carla Literally billions of people have received polio, flu, MMR and other vaccinations for over 70 years, with no verified findings of pervasive harm to the recipients. The most common side effects, aside from those suffered by people allergic to the ingredients, are a small scar at the injection sight and some mild flu-like symptoms for a couple days afterwards. The experience of an overwhelmingly large sample of the population spanning several generations is enough to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of vaccines. To suggest that vaccines be withheld from a control group in a double blind study, thereby exposing those participants to the risk of polio, measles, small pox or other illness, is wholly unethical.
Ken (NC)
Thank you for this article. I fear you are being overly optimistic about the public reception to a coronavirus vaccine. I expect that we will immediately be inundated with false information claiming that it's dangerous, or doesn't work, etc. The talking heads on the teevee will be spouting Russian disinformation attempting to divide us further. Hope I am wrong, but given the state of my Facebook feed right now, I don't have much hope.
Ann Heywood (Hudson Valley)
@Ken I would more concerned about our domestic anti-vaccine contingent than the Russians.
Jim (Pennsylvania)
@Ken If that's the case, then it will simply be survival of the smartest.
@Jim: Among pre-vaccine coronavirus sufferers, some recover, some with permanent lung damage who will seek lung future transplants; others passed away. The last group cannot reveal if they might have preferred a vaccine. A Facebook debate among the living puzzles, for they are loosely arguing ideology, not medicine or science. Calling survivors smartest simply insults the dead.
Harry B (Michigan)
I love to watch Bill Maher, although I don’t always agree with many of his opinions. He needs to apologize to all his fans about his anti vaccine stance. Him and the acting so called president of the dis United states.
See also