IDPH 125th


On April 12, 1955, the federal government announced the creation of a safe and effective vaccine for the prevention of polio. The Illinois legislature, which was in session at the time, promptly appropriated $1 million to the Department for the purchase and free distribution of the Salk vaccine.

Congress, likewise, was quick to appropriate special funds for this purpose. Altogether Illinois received $2.2 million in federal funds to purchase polio vaccine during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1956.

While funds to purchase the vaccine were plentiful, there was little vaccine to be had. Production was complicated and slow, resulting in a yield far below demand. In response, the federal government instituted strict rationing and entrusted its implementation to the U.S. Public Health Service’s National Poliomyelitis Advisory Committee. Throughout this time of scarcity, available vaccine was allotted to states, batch by batch as produced, on a population basis and restricted, at first, to children in the 5- to 14-year-old age group and to pregnant women.

In Illinois, the Department formed the Poliomyelitis Vaccine Distribution Committee to assist in preparing and executing a statewide plan. On April 17, 1955, the plan went into effect when the first batch of vaccine received by the Department was rationed to 75 counties. By the end of June, 350,000 children had received the first dose of the vaccine.

By the end of 1956, with the national supply of vaccine more abundant, demand fell off to the point where vigorous vaccine promotion campaigns were undertaken. Age restrictions were removed, federal rationing was lifted and all but a small percentage of available vaccine destined for Illinois was diverted to commercial channels.

Case reports in Illinois declined from a high of 4,002 in 1952 to 307 in 1957 and continued downward thereafter.

The Salk vaccine (also known as an inactivated polio vaccine) consists of a series of three shots given just under the skin. The immunization contains no live virus, but instead contains components of the virus that provoke the recipient’s immune system to react as if the recipient were actually infected with the poliovirus. The recipient thus becomes immune to any future infection with the poliovirus.

The Salk vaccine was widely used until the 1960s, when the Sabin vaccine (also called the oral polio vaccine, or OPV), became available. The more effective Sabin vaccine contains live, but weakened, poliovirus. These weakened forms of poliovirus make the recipient immune to future infections with poliovirus. This preparation is given by mouth in three doses. Because OPV uses live virus, it has the potential to cause infection in individuals with weakened immune systems and has lead to paralysis in some recipients and even in close contacts of recipients. This is a rare complication, however, occurring in only one in 2.4 million doses administered.

A more potent inactivated polio vaccine was developed in 1978 and first licensed in the United States in 1987. Because of the risks associated with using a live virus, in January 2000, the state switched from an OVP to an enhanced inactivated polio vaccine. Children should receive their first of four doses of the vaccine at 2 months of age and their last before school entry.

Due to the ready availability of vaccine and high immunization rates, there has not been a reported case of polio in Illinois since 1983.

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