Citizens were required to wear gauze masks in public during the influenza pandemic of 1918, reminded by this rhyme:A second remarkable medical advancement that affected life in America was the invention of the influenza vaccine in 1945. At the closing stages of World War I the most destructive pandemic recorded in world history ravaged the earth, infecting a fifth of the world’s population and twenty-eight percent of all Americans with influenza (Billings). The virus was the most fatal for those between the ages of twenty and forty, its effects so severe that the average life expectancy in the United States was depressed by ten years. Half of the American soldiers who died in the war in Europe fell to the influenza virus rather than to the enemy (Billings). Just as the war affected the path of influenza as it followed its human carriers along trade routes and shipping lines, influenza affected the course of the war, leaving entire fleets too sick to fight.
“Obey the laws
And wear the gauze
Protect your jaws
From Septic Paws”
World War I placed great importance on science, as the United States and European governments depended on scientists to derive vaccines and reduce casualties due to disease and battle wounds. The war caused governments to implement propaganda campaigns and nationalism spread as citizens began to accept government authority, enabling public health departments to easily step in and take restrictive measures (Billings). Gauze masks were to be worn in public, stores could not hold sales, funerals were limited to fifteen minutes, and signed certificates were required to enter some towns. Those who disregarded the influenza ordinances had to pay fines enforced by officers (Billings). These conditions created by the war along with the current social attitudes and ideas led to public encouragement of scientific application, reflecting new allegiance to science in the wartime society. Immunologists raced to develop a vaccine that would terminate the epidemic.
The influenza vaccine took years to discover and required the cooperation of many individuals. Thomas Francis, the director of the commission on influenza United States Army Epidemiological Board, was the first American to isolate the human influenza virus (Joachim). He and Jonas Salk researched a vaccine for influenza at the University of Michigan, and over the course of several years the vaccine was perfected. The vaccine had many side effects when it was first derived in 1945, but by the mid 1950’s Thomas Francis declared the vaccine safe for worldwide distribution (Joachim). The availability of the influenza vaccine was essential to producing healthy families during the baby boom of the 50’s that followed, lengthening and improving the quality of American lives.
"The 1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man's destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there."
— Journal of the American Medical Association final edition of 1918, 12/28/1918