In the summer of 1950 fear gripped residential America. Movie theaters shut down, baseball games were cancelled and panicky parents kept their children indoors. Young children who couldn't escape the invisible invader were left paralyzed, while others perished in the wake of the devastating virus. In the year of 1950, more than 33,000 Americans fell victim to polio - half of them under the age of 10.
KUED airs American Experience "The Polio Crusade" Tuesday, April 27 at 8:00 p.m. The documentary interweaves personal accounts of polio survivors with the story of an ardent scientist who tirelessly fought on their behalf - racing to eradicate the dreaded disease.
Based in part on David Oshinsky's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Polio: An American Story, "The Polio Crusade" features interviews with historians and scientists like Julius Younger, the only surviving member from the team that developed the Salk vaccine.
"Daddy and Mama took everything Sonny owned, all of his clothes, his bed, his chest of drawers, and he had a fabulous comic book collection. They took everything out to the middle of the garden and they made a pile and burned everything he owned. They were told to do that, so we would not get it," recalls Anne Crockett-Stark, who was seven years old when her brother fell ill with polio.
"The story of the polio crusade pays tribute to a time when Americans banded together to conquer a terrible disease," says executive producer Mark Samels. "The result was a medical breakthrough that saved countless lives and had a pervasive impact on American philanthropy that continues to be felt today."
The program covers the story of New York lawyer Basil O'Connor who rallied the American public to fight the war against polio. As the nation struggled from the trauma of the Great Depression, O'Connor faced a pressing challenge - funding. But his innovative approach transformed polio into a nationwide cause. Rather than relying on philanthropists, O'Connor asked every person to contribute what small change they could. His pleas struck a chord with the Americans public. Within days, envelopes stuffed with change flooded the White House mailroom and "The March of Dimes" was born.
O'Connor made a pledge to provide care for every polio patient in America and to invest in scientific research to create a vaccine that would end the disease forever. One young researcher caught O'Connor's attention, a scientist whose sense of urgency for a vaccine matched his own: Dr. Jonas Salk.
In April of 1954 Dr. Salk introduced his live vaccine and the field trials began. It was the largest public health experiment in American history. No one was certain it was safe. By June 1954, nearly two million school children in 44 states had taken part. Within just a few years the Salk vaccine decreased the number of polio cases in the United States by 50 percent. By the early 1960s, the number of Americans contracting polio fell to a few thousand annually.
Frontline "The Vaccine War"
Many public health practitioners champion vaccines as one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine. However, for many Americans vaccines have become controversial. Organizations like Generation Rescue argue that vaccines are responsible for alarming rises in disorders like ADHD and autism.
The Frontline team explores this controversial issue in "The Vaccine War," airing on KUED Tuesday, April 27 at 9:00 p.m. immediately following "The Polio Crusade." The program uncovers the viewpoints and claims supporting both advocates of vaccinations and those against.
On one side sits scientific medicine and the public health establishment; on the other a populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists. The documentary looks at Ashland, Oregon where up to one-third of parents are not having their children vaccinated.
It's a war that increasingly takes place on the internet with both sides using the latest social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter, to convince the public of their views.
Nurse and Child
Actor Jim Carrey, his daughter Jenny and actress Jenny McCarthy at "Green Our Vaccines" march
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