I came across an hilarious but enlightening segment from the Jimmy Kimmel show about vaccinations. His witty barbs were directed at the folks who are “more afraid of gluten than they are of smallpox.”
“If you are one of those anti vaccine people you probably aren’t going to take medical advice from a talk show host and I wouldn’t expect you to. I wouldn’t either. But I would expect you to take medical advice from….almost every doctor in the world.”
I did some online research for this blog post and I came across an article at the Atlantic website commemorating the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, the inventor of the inactivated polio vaccine, The article is entitled, The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic.
The article begins:
It started out as a head cold. Then, the day before Halloween, 6-year-old Frankie Flood began gasping for breath. His parents rushed him to City Hospital in Syracuse, New York, where a spinal tap confirmed the diagnosis every parent feared most in 1953: poliomyelitis. He died on his way to the operating room. “Frankie could not swallow—he was literally drowning in his own secretions,” wrote his twin sister, Janice, decades later. “Dad cradled his only son as best he could while hampered by the fact that the only part of Frankie’s body that remained outside the iron lung was his head and neck.”
What a horrible scenario.
In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.
Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk's new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.
I was born in 1956 at the tail end of the polio epidemic; a year after Dr. Salk’s vaccine was introduced and the number of polio cases dramatically declined. I don’t remember the polio epidemic firsthand because I was just a baby. Many (most?) of those opposed to vaccinations were born years, even decades, after the polio epidemic.
And they….we... live in a country where many terrible, deadly diseases have been eradicated. We just don’t know or we forget what it was like to live with the fear of polio killing and maiming our children. Or how in desperate attempts to stop the spread of the disease, movie theaters closed, churches cancelled services and almost everyone avoided crowds. We are spoiled, privileged and complacent, even sneeringly ungrateful for the amazing progress medical science has made to improve our lives and to increase the average life span.
Having recently witnessed the complete freak out because of several cases of Ebola in the United States, I can imagine the reaction if eight children in a class of twenty four were infected by the Ebola virus. And if a vaccine was available, parents would be lining up with their children just like parents did in 1955….thankful for a way to protect them.
But we just don’t know or we forget what it was like during the polio epidemic.
The Atlantic article also featured an interview by Peter Salk, the son of Jonas Salk. He had this to say about vaccinating his own son against pertussis:
When my own son Michael was born 31 years ago, the whole-cell vaccine was still in use. Whooping cough was essentially gone in this country by that time, so from one perspective, why should we take the risk of causing a high fever or other side effects in our own child? I know I certainly thought about this a lot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of the good that other people had done by immunizing their kids—to take a free ride, so to speak. Michael did end up developing a fever. But I couldn’t have lived with my decision if we hadn’t given him the vaccine.
I thought long and hard about whether I should vaccinate Matthew. I lived in Iowa, then. It was all very holistic. My pregnancy had very few medical interventions (not even an ultrasound) The delivery was long and very close to a natural delivery. I read Mothering magazine. I read Dr. Sears. I watched Penelope Leach. I was VERY reluctant to vaccinate him. But I researched (via the library) and thought and discussed and came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do and the best decision for him and for society.
And I agree with Peter Salks. Anti-vaxers are taking a free ride on the risk that he took vaccinating his son and they are taking a free ride on the risk that I took vaccinating Matthew....and then Beth....and then Emily. Yes, it was to protect them but it was also to protect other children who cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions or age. The herd immunity thing which is another way of demonstrating that I am my “brother’s keeper”
Now many states (20) allow an exemption not only for medical and religious reasons but also for reasons of conscience. My conscience dictates that I not only protect my own children from serious, potentially deadly diseases but that I protect other vulnerable children. And yes….that even includes those children whose parents opt out of overwhelmingly safe and effective vaccines because of misinformation and selfishness.