COVID-19 is not the first virus to affect American college students. We are just beginning to learn about the long-term health effects of COVID. Another life-threatening virus was polio.

First some background information from the Mayo Clinic: Polio is a contagious viral illness that in its most severe form causes nerve injury leading to paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes death. Poliovirus can be transmitted through direct contact with someone infected with the virus or, less commonly, through contaminated food and water. People who have polio but don't have symptoms can pass the virus to others.

Polio came to United States in 1894. The first successful vaccines—developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin—were not available until the 1950s.

Dr. Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccineDr. Albert Sabin, inventor of the oral polio vaccine / Photograph from Hauck Center, University of Cincinnati Libraries

Caring for the health of all the students at Wilmington College, Dr. Samuel Ravenel sent a letter to college president, Dr. William M. Randall, recommending that the college require polio vaccines for all students before admission (Board of Trustees minutes, 14 Jan. 1959 p. 2). After review by the executive committee, the board decided not to make the vaccine mandatory for students (Board of Trustees minutes, 11 Feb. 1959 p.3).

Later, at the Board of Trustees meeting on 26 January, 1965 (p. 3), Dr. Randall recommended that enrolled students meet “... certain physical examination entrance requirements .... This would require smallpox vaccination, tetanus toxoid, polio immunization, serology, and a chest x-ray.” 

Bibliography

The History of Polio Vaccines. Available at https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/polio.

Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington College. (14 January, 1959). Available at https://digitalcollections.uncw.edu/digital/collection/bot/id/207/rec/1.

Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington College. (11 February, 1959). Available at https://digitalcollections.uncw.edu/digital/collection/bot/id/208/rec/3.

Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington College. (26 January, 1965). Available at https://digitalcollections.uncw.edu/digital/collection/bot/id/285/rec/4.

Photograph of Albert Sabin. Courtesy of Hauck Center for the Albert B. Sabin Archives, University of Cincinnati Libraries. 

Polio. The Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polio/symptoms-causes/syc-20376512.