For reasons that completely elude me, quite a few people are rejecting vaccination. They have somehow rationalized away some of the most important progress in human history. The result has been the reappearance of diseases we conquered, of which we thought we’d seen the last.
I remember the annual terror the summertime brought before polio vaccines made the world a safe place to be a kid.
I remember lining up in school — a first grader — with all the other kids to get my shot and how happy our parents were that finally, we didn’t live under the terrible shadow of polio.
Here’s a reminder of how things were before there was such a thing as a polio vaccination, when summer was filled with fear for every child, everywhere.
Today would be Jonas Salk’s 101st birthday. Conquering polio was not only about Dr. Salk, though he was first at the starting line. As polio ravaged patients worldwide, two gifted American researchers developed distinct vaccines against it. Then the question was: Which one to use?
By Gilbert King – Smithsonian.com – April 3, 2012
They were two young Jewish men who grew up just a few years apart in the New York area during the Great Depression. Though both were both drawn to the study of medicine and did not know each other at the time, their names would be linked in a heroic struggle that played out on the front pages of newspapers around the world.
In the end, both Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk could rightfully claim credit for one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments—the near-eradication of polio in the 20th century. And yet debate still echoes over whose method is best suited for the mass vaccination needed to finish the job: Salk’s injected, dead-virus vaccine or Sabin’s oral, live-virus version.
In the first half of the 20th century, Americans lived in fear of the incurable paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) disease, which they barely understood and knew not how to contain. That the disease led to some kind of infection in the central nervous system that crippled so many children, and even a president (Franklin D. Roosevelt) was alarming enough.
But the psychological trauma that followed a neighborhood outbreak resonated. Under the mistaken belief that poor sanitary conditions during the “polio season” of summer increased exposure to the virus, people resorted to measures that had been used to combat the spread of influenza or the plague. Areas were quarantined, schools and movie theaters were closed, windows were sealed shut in the heat of summer, public swimming pools were abandoned, and draft inductions were suspended.
Worse, many hospitals refused to admit patients who were believed to have contracted polio, and the afflicted were forced to rely on home care by doctors and nurses who could do little more than fit children for braces and crutches. In its early stages, polio paralyzed some patients’ chest muscles; if they were fortunate, they would be placed in an “iron lung,” a tank respirator with vacuum pumps pressurized to pull air in and out of the lungs. The iron lungs saved lives, but became an intimidating visual reminder of polio’s often devastating effects.