Polio: An American Story is a scholarly book written by David Oshinsky, a historian from the University of Texas, examines American medical research in the 20th century where there was Polio epidemic. Poliomyelitis is a dreadful disease that has claimed a lot of lives before the discovery of a vaccine. Though children are considered to be more prone to getting the disease, adults could also be infected with polio. This means that no one was excluded from attaining an infection despite their age, gender, or class. Oshinsky writes, “Polio hit tidy and stable neighborhoods harder than the areas marked with poverty (Oshinsky 4). This illustrates that polio had become a social problem because anyone was prone and vulnerable to the disease. Oshinsky also points out that one of the common mantras adopted by Americans is that ‘We will conquer Polio’ to signify that everyone in the society was ready to find a way to terminate the disease in the society (Oshinsky 4). This paper will examine ways in which polio was framed in terms of medical, socio-political and economic during the 20th century till midcentury when the vaccine for polio was created by scientists.
Given that polio was an epidemic disease globally during the 20th century, President Roosevelt among other philanthropists established the National Foundation for the Infantile Paralysis that took part in championing war against this deadly disease that had befallen the human race. The Foundation used different methods for fundraising, advertising, journaling among other social techniques to give people hope in finding a vaccine for this disease. President Roosevelt took part in the Polio campaigns because he was paralyzed by the disease despite being an adult and a political figure. The National Foundation was crucial because it recognized that there are a number of lives that have been lost because of the disease and through singling it as an epidemic, it gave the disease attention. Polio had become a public commitment to people in the US in that the foundation rallied charities as a way of raising money. This shows that polio had become an economic factor where philanthropists were willing to donate their funds to medical scientists that were in the process of looking for a cure. Oshinsky points that the concept of consumerism in America had changed to philanthropy and volunteers in order for them to be shielded from the deadly disease by finding a vaccine or cure.
Polio also created a sense of fear and anxiety among the American because the disease had been claimed as fatal and anyone could get the disease. This initiated religious institutions to be part of eradicating the disease by asserting the necessity of cleanliness in the community. For example, the church community ensured that everyone went with their own cups during communion or sacrament to ensure that there is no contamination (Oshinsky 29-30). The public also wanted to dedicate their time to clean money in order to disinfect and kill the bacteria. The sense of fear that had been embedded in the society in the early 20th century brought economic opportunities for businesses. For example, Listerine made a lot of money because it advertised that their products can disinfect the bacteria, which would make the people free from diseases (Oshinsky 30). The enigmatic rise of polio had caused social anxiety and also created business opportunities for certain products in the market.
Given that being paralyzed as a political figure could be interpreted as moral failing during this era, President Roosevelt’s reign was in jeopardy because he could not hide the fact that he was permanently paralyzed because of Polio (Oshinsky 31). Thus, the secret union constructed podiums that covered his legs to hinder the people from dismissing his political prosperity based on his medical conditions. In most cases, President Roosevelt’s pictures were mainly of his torso and face but not his limbs. The author points out that “most Americans, viewed him through the lens that he himself had created: as an inspiring figure who had overcome an illness, not as a cripple with a permanent disability (Oshinsky 45). This mindset made most Americans vote for him because it showed that disability was not inability in that the president was crippled but could do his job. This shows that polio as a disease shaped President Roosevelt’s political career in that many people looked up to him as a role model in the society.
The National Foundation also donated most of its funds to the science committee that were optimistic to finding cure and vaccine for polio. Salk was one of the scientists that finally found the vaccine against the endemic disease, polio. Though Salk was praised for getting Polio’s vaccines, he was condemned for his failures in the scientific research where he prematurely administered experimental vaccines to children (Oshinsky 171). This paralyzed more children by doing more harm than good. Two hundred children had been paralyzed by the inactivated experimental vaccine. This was sad. Though Salk finally discovered polio’s vaccine, he did not win any Nobel Prize for his works. Polio had shaped the scientific committee in the early twentieth century because most medical researchers were looking for the cure of the disease.
Oshinsky, David M.. Polio: An American Story.. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books LLC, 2007. Print.