Find of the Month

May 2021 - Polio Vaccination

S.P. Lehman, the Director of Public Health, wrote to City Council in January 1956 with good news: "The Federal Government has made available funds to the State of Washington which in turn are to be made available to Seattle and King County to conduct a Polio Immunization Program." Lehman included a proposed budget for the program that included medical and administrative staff, expenses such as syringes and postage, and equipment including two metal desks and a typewriter. He noted that "a certain amount of vaccine is now available and we are formulating an immunization program."

In June 1958, Lehman wrote again to City Council asking for additional money to continue with vaccinations. Public Health’s Well Child Clinics had been offering other immunizations, but he noted that the addition of the Salk polio vaccine to their offerings had substantially increased the number of children brought to the clinics. He added, "The increased demand for immunization for poliomyelitis, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus and smallpox for preschool children is highly desirable from the standpoint of achieving adequate protection for this most highly susceptible portion of the population." The council’s Finance Committee approved an expenditure to supply the clinics for the rest of the year.

By 1962 the new Sabin oral vaccine was available, and Lehman was enthused about its possibilities. In a letter to City Council he noted that the oral vaccine was "more acceptable to the public so persons not immunized with Salk vaccine may be expected to take this," adding that "experts expect that the immunization produced by Sabin vaccine may eventually eradicate this disease." The goal of the program was to vaccinate 75% of King County’s population.

The number of polio cases in the United States dropped by 85-90% after widespread immunization. The Seattle World’s Fair celebrated the inventor of the original vaccine on Jonas Salk Day on June 4, 1962, with festivities including Governor Albert Rosellini, Mayor Gordon Clinton, and Salk himself.