50 years ago, polio was still circulating in the United States

Excerpt from the September 13, 1969 issue of Science News

administering a polio vaccine

The world has never been closer to eradicating polio, but the disease could come roaring back where vaccination rates have slipped.

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cover of September 13, 1969 issue

Polio could come back, Science News, September 13, 1969 —

Only eight cases of paralytic polio have been reported in the entire United States so far in 1969. But … if infants and young children are not vaccinated as they come along, pockets of the disease could get larger.


The United States saw its last naturally occurring polio case in 1979. Though the paralyzing disease is now close to being eradicated worldwide, it still circulates in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 66 new cases were recorded this year as of August 22. Meanwhile, dozens of new cases, mainly in Africa, were caused by vaccine strains that reverted to disease-causing versions. Newer vaccine versions yet to be deployed have a lower risk of causing disease, researchers reported in July in the Lancet. Vaccination campaigns are still needed everywhere, or the disease “will come roaring back,” says Oliver Rosenbauer, spokesman for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. A resurgence could cause “as many as 200,000 new cases” globally a year.

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