It’s not about you: Get the shot
My dear wife, Linda, remembers well her mother’s tears and her father’s joy that cold day in 1955 she and her sister and brothers stood shivering outside Briggs Elementary in Maquoketa waiting their turn to receive the polio vaccine.
Nothing could stop them.
The availability of a vaccine to rid the people of the curse of polio was a cause célèbre not just in Maquoketa, but nationwide, and worldwide.
For Linda, it was personal. The life of her father, the late Laurence “L.L.” Long, the pioneer educator and county superintendent of schools, was abruptly and cruelly interrupted in 1931, just as he graduated after working his way through Cornell College and landing one of the best jobs in the state.
It was a devastating blow. With legs too weak to support his athletic frame and an arm unable to perform many tasks, he picked up the pieces, married my mother-in-law, Zoe Shipton, and lived a productive life until he died in 1997 at age 89, the heavy leg brace notwithstanding.
Laurence was one of the lucky ones. He survived. Many did not.
In the absence of a vaccine, polio, which afflicted mostly children, exploded worldwide, reaching a climax in Iowa in 1952 with 3,564 cases and 163 deaths. Nationwide, there were 58,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.
In fear, swimming pools and theaters were closed. Quarantines were imposed. Children were warehoused in steel tubes called iron lungs and had no contact with the outside world. One in 10 died. Survivors had reduced mobility, and later in life suffered a weakening of muscles called post-polio syndrome.
At last! A vaccine for
It was awful. Moms and dads worried — and then, Dr. Jonas Salk produced an injectible vaccine from a killed virus in 1953. It was announced as effective and safe in 1955, and parents breathed a sigh of relief. It never occurred to them to pass up the miracle of science that gave new life. Schools required it — and it worked!
In 1961, Salk’s vaccine was replaced by Dr. Albert Sabin’s live-virus vaccine which is given orally, with sugar cubes (“A Spoon Full of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down!”), and by 1979, polio was gone from the U.S.
But polio was not gone. A thousand kids were contracting it somewhere in the world every day — 350,000 a year — when a trial in the Philippines in 1985 went well and the leadership of Rotary, a group I’m proud to be a part of, decided to take action. No child anywhere should live a life of paralysis when prevention is possible, they said.
With technical and logistical support from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Rotary put its “boots on the ground” to work, with members in 35,000 clubs in more than 200 countries. Members have given $1.8 billion (that’s billion with a “b”). That was augmented by governments of the world, Unicef, and more recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Rotary members have traveled to the ends of the world to administer the polio vaccine to more than 2.5 billion children in 122 countries. I was one small part of a National Immunization Days team in India in 2012 when the oral vaccine was given to 172 million children under 5.
Think of it. 172 million!
The logistics were staggering, but successful. India has not had a case of polio since.
In all, more than 16 million children have been spared paralysis. The virus is in retreat.
But the virus is still alive, no thanks to anti-vaxxers, led by Muslim clerics in Nigeria, which this year, at last, for the second time, was declared polio-free, and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where 136 children have contracted polio so far in 2020.
As long as the wild polio virus is alive anywhere, it can spread everywhere. It is but one airplane flight away.
That polio wasn’t eradicated years ago is inexcusable. Billions of dollars and millions of man hours have already been invested in the coordinated effort to rid the world of polio — dollars and man hours which could be dedicated to another worthy cause, were it not for ignorance and superstition.
300,000 lives, and now a vaccine
Comes now COVID-19, which has claimed more than 300,000 lives in this country, overwhelmed our healthcare institutions, disrupted our schools, and sent shock waves through our economy, including small businesses here and everywhere.
It is a cause for celebration and hope that a vaccine was rolled out in this country which has been tested and re-tested by medical and scientific experts who have pronounced it effective and safe.
And yet 20 percent nationally — and 26 percent in our own community per our newspaper’s online poll — say they will “definitely not” take it.
Is that a kick in the gut, or what?
Thirty-three years ago, Rotary raised the vision of a polio-free world — which still has not been achieved due to ignorance and superstition.
Now we’re only at the beginning of a campaign to stamp out COVID-19, and one fifth of the people say NO?
It’s not about YOU
I say NO WAY. GET YOUR SHOTS. It’s not about YOU when YOUR activities affect OTHERS. Get your shots so our schools and churches and families and businesses can resume normal activities. So we can come together safely as a community again, with concerts and plays and fairs and festivals and ballgames with fans in the seats and all the rest.
I think of Linda’s parents, and my parents, and everyone in the community who rallied to stamp out polio, FOR THE COMMON GOOD, and shake my head in dismay that medical science, which serves to protect, is so disregarded.
The question is not, “Do you believe in vaccines?” That’s like asking if you believe the Earth revolves around the sun. Science is fact. Belief is faith. Both are important, but they should never be confused.
Give the gift of life. Get your shots.
Bill Tubbs is publisher of The North Scott Press in Eldridge, an Iowa Master Editor-Publisher and a Past District Governor of Rotary.