By Jaclyn Gallucci
The 1952 polio epidemic was one of the largest and most frightening public health crises in the United States, with outbreaks in all 50 states. Of the nearly 58,000 cases reported that year, 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left paralyzed. Until 1955, when New York City’s Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his vaccine, polio was a constant terror. When asked in a televised interview who owned the patent for the vaccine, Salk replied, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
Well, times have changed. Now pharmaceutical companies are highly protective of their assets, because vaccines are not just medical breakthroughs, they are also big business. In fact, Salk’s vaccine went on to raise manufacturer Eli Lilly’s profit by 90 percent in 1956, bringing in a total of $13.7 million in revenue for the company, in addition to the millions it made other manufacturers of the time. Today, companies like Merck bring in billions by manufacturing vaccines for everything from chicken pox to the flu.
And, today, children who follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended schedule receive 69 doses of 16 vaccines—46 more doses than they did 30 years ago, and the highest amount given in any country in the world.
Parents, faced with a barrage of polarizing opinions and a handful of conflicting studies, remain in a constant search for definitive answers. But right now, there aren’t any.
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