My earliest childhood memory is as a 5-year-old being taken to Roseville’s Royer Park by my mom back in 1962.
It wasn’t a trip to play on the swings. Instead it was serious business.
A free polio vaccination clinic was taking place at the veterans’ hall at the park.
Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine had just been released, eight years after Jonas Salk had successfully devised a way to immunize people against polio.
Sabin’s vaccine was contained in a simple sugar cube.
The year prior to my vaccination, 161 people had died in the United States from polio and several thousand paralyzed. Polio epidemics were annual events in this country starting in 1916 when 6,000 people died and 27,000 were infected until the early 1960s when a mass immunization effort started to send polio down for the count.
The most aggressive period for epidemics, however, was the 1940s and 1950s. In 1949 there were 2,720 deaths and 42,193 cases. There were 3,145 deaths in 1952 with 21,269 cases.
Those “21,269 cases” left every victim at least with partial paralysis — that’s if they were lucky. If they weren’t they were forced to live out their days in an iron lung in order to breathe.
I knew several people who had to deal with polio until the day they died. One was restricted to a wheel chair because his legs were worthless while he could barely control one of his arms. Another was a mother of two who was forced to walk with a serious limp like the character Deputy Goode in the long running TV show “Gunsmoke.”
It’s safe to say almost no one under 40 is likely to remember “Gunsmoke” or the impacts of polio.
It also helps explain why perhaps some medical professionals took a relaxed approach to the initial Ebola cases in this country while most of us have viewed such incidents as either “so what” while a few have been alarmed,
Our smugness does us in every time.
We believe in 2014 that we are the kings of the universe. After all, aren’t most of us armed with smartphones, and blessed with the portal of never-ending knowledge known as the Internet? We so far removed from the day-to-day realities of simply finding enough food and water to survive that dogged mankind through the ages that as Americans we spend $60 billion a year trying to shed pounds.
There is no need to act like we did just 60 years ago in dealing with deadly viruses. That’s so old school. As for vaccines to keep measles, polio and other disease that once struck terror into the hearts of parents everywhere at the mere mention of them — we don’t need them. That’s stuff they needed back in the Dark Ages of the 20th century.
We have a huge disconnect with epidemics such as Ebola sweeping distance places such as Africa. It’s so distance that it takes us just 29 hours to get there via commercial flights.
When an opportunity comes up to get a vaccine for our kids, many of us reject it based on personal preference. It’s not due to a religious belief. It is more along the lines the objections are fed by conspiracy fears on the Internet or holding the belief that diseases they are immunizing against are ancient history.
And even when they are offered at no charge to the poor in this country, many don’t bother to take advantage of free clinics that are more often than not within an easy one hour drive.
Yet when Rotary International was offering free polio vaccines in places such as The Philippines, mothers would walk two days with their children to get them vaccinated.
We operate on the assumption they are forced to do that because they don’t live in America as if we are a promised land protected completely from nature’s scourges by modern technology.
There is not an impermeable bubble over this country.
What has kept the United States free of deadly epidemics for the past 50 years was a hardcore faith in vaccinations and precautionary steps that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents embraced as if it was a matter of life and death. After all, they saw firsthand what epidemics can do.
While it is essential the federal government and heath care communities take the Ebola epidemic seriously, it is perhaps more important that the rest of us do the same.
After all, our heath and lives — as well as that of loved ones — depends on it.