Vaccine History with Dr. Martin Topiel

When considering the complex and varied views people have regarding vaccines, Dr. Martin Topiel recommends looking to history for guidance.

“New vaccines are often controversial in their time,” he says. “But when we look back at the impact they have—how they eradicated diseases that once debilitated or killed by the thousands—we have better context for this moment in time.”

Dr. Topiel cites polio as an example. Before a vaccine became available in the 1950s, polio paralyzed an average of 15,000 Americans per year and claimed the lives of many children. Thanks to vaccination, polio has been nonexistent in the U.S. for more than 40 years. According to, incidence of polio has decreased 99 percent worldwide—a triumph for public health.

“The CDC reported 350,000 cases of polio globally in 1988. By 2013, that number plummeted to 403 cases. Progress like that doesn’t just happen. It requires everyday people to step up and make the decision to protect themselves,” Dr. Topiel says.

In February 2013, long before COVID-19, Forbes magazine created an infographic to illustrate the effectiveness of vaccinations, based on data reported in the Journal of American Medical Association.

“I remember when the World Health Organization declared smallpox had been eradicated in 1980. It was a major victory for the planet,” Topiel recalls. “There is evidence that that disease had existed for thousands of years, claiming too many lives to count, and yet modern medicine found a way to stop it for good.”

For these reasons, and others, Dr. Topiel encourages everyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

“Past generations had to wait in vain for cures to come around. Today, we already have the tools to stop COVID-19, but it is the ultimate group effort,” he says. “Everyone must play their part for this to work.”

Updated September 20, 2021

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