The Day Elvis Helped Fight Polio

By | October 24, 2019

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Elvis Presley receiving a polio vaccination from Dr. Leona Baumgartner and Dr. Harold Fuerst at CBS Studio 50 in New York City. Source: (Photo by Seymour Wally/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Never underestimate the persuasive power of celebrities to advance a cause. Actress Jenny McCarthy, who has no medical or science degree, has spent the last 10 years claiming that there is a strong link between vaccines and autism. This claim has been disproven again and again, yet so many people listen to McCarthy's opinion because of her star power, not her medical background. Years before McCarthy was born, however, researchers tapped the tremendous star power of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, to promote vaccines, particularly to teens and young adults. And it worked. This is how, on this day in 1956, the King helped to combat polio. 

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Polio patients in iron lungs filled hospital wings. Source: (

Polio, a Massive Health Crisis

By the 1950s, polio was the single biggest threat to American children. The virus infected more than 60,000 children annually, and about 3,000 of those children died from the virus while thousands more were paralyzed. The paralysis went so deep that it impacted the patients' lungs, forcing them into artificial breathing machines called iron lungs that were set up at hospitals around the country. Though it mainly impacted children, the poliovirus did not discriminate, and neither did its lifelong health complications. Everyone was susceptible, even Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as president from 1933 to 1945.