Hopefully one day our grandchildren will have to Google search COVID-19 to find a definition.
If they do, this virus will have come to pass.
Obviously that’s everyone’s daily prayer, that it will disappear from our society like polio, a disease I’ve tried to learn more about lately — more specifically the country’s reaction to the polio vaccine.
Unlike the COVID-19 vaccine, apparently there was a greater public acceptance of and willingness to receive the polio inoculation.
Some of today’s Marion residents were in elementary school back in 1955 when the polio vaccine was distributed. Talked to one recently who remembers walking as a group from school to the second-floor health office on East Carlisle Street. After climbing the stairs, students were given the vaccine, which was contained in a chewable sugar cube.
I’ve been wondering whether there was apprehension about the polio vaccine. Was the country divided about its validity, its efficacy? Were people reluctant to have their children vaccinated, were they on the phone talking about their neighbors’ willingness or unwillingness to accept an inoculation to prevent a horrible, debilitating disease that was affecting children at alarming rates?
Here’s what I found. Surprisingly, it took 47 years from the time polio was identified until a vaccine was distributed. Because of limited technology at the time, scientists and medical professionals started from scratch to develop the vaccine. Since the 1980s, more than 90% of school-age children have been vaccinated for polio.
The quick development of three COVID-19 vaccines was the result of years and years of research in the scientific archives on SARS vaccines. Because COVID and SARS are both coronaviruses diseases, scientists has a head start on dealing with the new strain, which led to the relatively quick creation of a COVID-19 vaccine.
When it became available in 1955, people couldn’t get the polio vaccine fast enough. One of the reasons, historians say, was that Americans had a deep respect for science. A chorus of social media opinions did not exist back then to confuse the public. A campaign of disinformation and skepticism about the COVID vaccine has clearly created pockets of deep-rooted resistance, doubt and insecurity.
Polio attacked children. Nearly 60,000 children in 1952 were infected and more than 3,000 died. By comparison, a year’s worth of COVID-19 data show 32 million cases in the U.S. and more than 573,000 deaths. Yet serious COVID illness, so far, is rare among children.
Years worth of efforts by door-to-door volunteers acting on behalf of the March of Dimes helped Americans feel like they were helping toward the effort to eradicate polio. These are the individuals whose lives were greatly impacted by World War II and many were involved in the war effort not too many years earlier.
By the time the polio vaccine was available in 1955, parents understood and accepted that the risks of contracting polio were a much greater threat than the risks of the vaccine.
We’re beginning to understand that about COVID, too. Even though individuals vaccinated for COVID-19 can contract and, unfortunately spread the virus, the risks of serious illness requiring hospitalization are lessened. A study in Georgia released last weekend pointed out that almost 90% of COVID hospitalizations were among the unvaccinated. Other data are bearing that out across the country.
A friend in Louisville who works in the medical industry shared a conversation he recently had with a doctor. Standing outside one of Louisville’s largest hospitals, he pointed to the upper floors and said there were 100 seriously ill COVID patients up there. None of them were vaccinated.
I’m always one to avoid uncomfortable topics or create controversy. I know there are varying opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine, but I think we’re beginning to see the life-threatening or life-altering effects of not being vaccinated.
I understand the fear of the unknown. It’s a weakness I share. Being fearful of making the wrong decision is what creates hesitancy, sometimes with serious consequences.
But we trusted scientists in the 50s to protect our children from polio. Science worked. And now it’s time to let science protect us again.
The rollout of a life-saving vaccine is something we might only see once or twice in our lifetime. Hopefully no more.
Folks in the 50s who trusted the process of eradicating polio should be our guide. It’s time we do the same so our kids and grandkids won’t live with COVID-19, but instead will need to Google it.
Allison Evans is a third-generation owner of The Crittenden Press newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.