Scientific and Medical Legacy
The scientific community and the government learned valuable lessons in response to polio. There were changes in government oversight of vaccine development and surveillance of clinical trials for vaccines and drugs, in design of laboratory facilities, and in the nature of rehabilitation.
As people who had had polio matured, they became a political and social force. By pushing legislation such as the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, they helped to bring about a consumer-oriented approach to health and to establish the idea that medical care is a right.
Previously, rehabilitation therapy had focused primarily on soldiers and their injuries, aiming “to restore the handicapped to the fullest usefulness of which they are capable,” as the National Council on Rehabilitation stated in 1942.
Experience with the polio vaccine encouraged public health officers to think in broader terms. The effectiveness of the Sabin oral vaccine resulted in the Vaccination Assistance Act of 1962, a landmark in public health legislation. It provided the states with 36 million dollars to give free vaccines for polio and other childhood diseases. Coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control, the national effort eventually became the focus of an annual infant immunization week, launched in 1977.
Polio and the Nobel Prize
Over the years, the March of Dimes has funded many research projects related to polio as well as other health issues. For example, twenty-four-year-old James Watson traveled to the University of Cambridge in England on a National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis grant in 1952. There he met Francis Crick and began a scientific collaboration that led to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA … and a Nobel Prize.
The March of Dimes has funded eight Nobel Prize winners:
- 1954, Linus Pauling, Ph.D., Chemistry
- 1954, John F. Enders, Ph.D., Thomas H. Weller, M.D., Frederick Robbins, M.D., Physiology or Medicine
- 1962, James D. Watson, Ph.D., Physiology or Medicine
- 1969, Max Delbrück, Ph.D., Physiology or Medicine
- 1976, D. Carleton Gajdusek, M.D., Physiology or Medicine
- 1985, Joseph L. Goldstein, M.D., Physiology or Medicine
The influence of polio extends into other scientific areas. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies was built by Jonas Salk with funding from the March of Dimes, and eighteen Nobel laureates affiliated with the institute received March of Dimes support:
- 1946, Wendell M. Stanley
- 1947, Carl F. Cori
- 1958, Edward L. Tatum
- 1962, Francis H. C. Crick
- 1965, Jacques Monod and André Lwoff
- 1968, Marshall Nirenberg and Robert Holley
- 1969, Salvador E. Luria
- 1970, Julius Axelrod
- 1972, Gerald M. Edelman
- 1975, Renato Dulbecco and David Baltimore
- 1977, Roger Guillemin
- 1978, Daniel Nathans
- 1980, Paul Berg
- 1981, Torsten N. Wiesel
- 1987, Susumu Tonegawa
In 1963, Jonas Salk founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. Dr. Richard Rietz recalled that it “introduced open laboratories, modular lab planning, ease of communication between scientists, reconfigurable lab utilities and services, and cantilevered benches.”