Did the government lack ‘common sense’? Coventry’s 1957 Polio Epidemic

Gareth Millward
(Centre for History in Public Health, LSHTM)

The arrival of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in 1955 had given public health officials a major boost in the fight against polio. But in Britain, concerns its safety had led to supply problems. In the middle of this crisis, Coventry suffered one of its worst ever polio outbreaks. It was “common sense”, citizens argued, that the government import from the United States and Canada, and redirect existing supplies to epidemic-affected regions. However, this did not necessarily accord with the advice given by the government’s own public health experts and the World Health Organisation.

This paper will therefore explore the tension between “common sense” and expert advice in the context of the 1957 epidemic, using national and local press and government sources.

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Wednesday, 11th November 2015, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue: LG8, Keppel Street Building