Voluntary vaccinations …really?
The reality of vaccines is clear. They are safe. They are lifesaving.
Those who are venomously opposed to vaccines are clearly relying on Mickey Mouse science. How else to explain the current outbreak of measles – that scourge all but vanquished from this country – that began in Disneyland, the ultimate safe haven for children.
Fueled by a virulent strain of misinformation, pseudo scientists and pseudo celebrities, the anti vaccine rhetoric is running rampant.
They are living in their own “Magic Kingdom.”
By flouting the medical consensus they are compromising the safety of the community. The point of vaccines isn’t to just stop the vaccinated person from getting the disease it is to prevent the disease from spreading to others.
When it comes to saving lives, there is no choice.
As the vaccine issue is vigorously debated among politicians, its good to remember a time when vaccinations were not only vigorously embraced but each new vaccine was viewed as a victory for mankind.
The Miracle of the Polio Vaccine
Grateful to have been a fully inoculated American kid, I would take for granted one of the most remarkable developments in modern history.
The polio vaccine approved in April 1955, a mere two weeks after I was born was nothing short of a modern miracle.
As a child I was constantly reminded that mine was a charmed existence, protected from deadly contagious diseases that had previously wiped out families and communities forever. And not just in the Dark Ages but in my own mothers lifetime.
Receiving my first set of vaccinations as a baby in 1955, I felt invincible.
The injections may not have rendered me faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive but with my newly acquired powers that went far beyond those of third world tots, I could now stand down whooping-cough, diphtheria and laugh polio in the face.
Ravages of Polio
For the first half of the century polio was the most notorious disease until AIDS appeared. And for good reason- polio hit without warning. There was no way of telling who would get it and who would be spared.
Summer was open season for polio. Before 1955, there would be no youngsters swimming in public pools since most municipal pools were closed for fear of polio.
Like clockwork every summer, newspapers, with headlines screaming “Polio panic,” would appear with frightening photos of jammed packed polio wards and deserted beaches. News stories about containment competed for space, whether it was iron lungs or the iron curtain.
No disease struck the same terror as polio.
Fueled by feelings of helplessness, Mom like other nervous mothers, zealously checked and rechecked my brother’s every symptom; a sore throat, a fever, the chills, or even an aching limb, could all point to something ominous.
The rules were written in stone: Keep kids away from new groups of people. Don’t drink from the drinking fountain in the playground if you’re thirsty. Don’t put any foreign object in your mouth; Don’t run around in the heat with a sore throat; and make sure house screens were tight against flies and mosquitoes.
This particular disease targeted defenseless children. It didn’t matter how good you were, how clean, how rich or poor, polio was the great American equalizer.
It seemed impossible that in this antibacterial, spic n’ span country where confident Americans were not just clean but Clorox clean, where physicians worked twice as fast for faster relief and creative chemistry worked wonders killing germs on contact, that polio could still ravage our nation.
Flush with triumphant victory of winning a war on two sides of the globe, we were still fighting a major battle right here in our own country, and in a way unfamiliar to Americans.
We were losing.
At a time when our confidence in American know how and scientific expertise was at an all time high, polio seemed to mock our can-do optimism.
The triumph over any enemy was an American birthright, so with that same can-do spirit, the troops were rallied with their resonating war cry “Polio can be conquered.”
March of Dimes
On the Warpath Against Polio
Mom was a veteran of that war, and would play her part against polio by supporting The March of Dimes.
By 1951 Mom would soon be a mother herself and so for good reason she got involved.
As the front line defender of her family’s health, she joined the National Foundation March of Dimes as a foot soldier, joining the millions of marching mothers on their one hour mission going house to house for solicitations as part of the Mothers march on Polio.
For an hour each year on a January evening these women, once an indelible image of postwar America, formed the largest charitable army the country had ever known, which served as models for much later marches by mothers against nuclear testing and environment.
Salk Vaccine Trials
By 1954 the Salk vaccine trials rivaled the other big stories that spring – Brown versus Board of Education and The Army McCarthy hearings.
In fact more people knew about the field trials than knew the full name of the president. The kids in the trial were called Polio pioneers and a polio pioneer card was given out to each child along with a piece of candy when they participated in the first national trial tests of a trial vaccine.
In April 1955, my parents, along with millions of others had cause for celebration – the polio vaccine was approved! Jonas Salk using March of Dime donations had successfully developed a vaccine to prevent polio
Victory for a Vaccine
A very relieved Mom, along with most Americans of that age who were frantic to protect their children, would remember exactly where she was when she heard the groundbreaking news.
Early in the morning on April 12 1955, with the dishes washed, laundry folded, baby bottles being sterilized in the electric bottle sterilizer awaiting refill of formula, Mom could sit back, relax and give me my mid morning feeding.
As she warmed up the bottle, she warmed up the TV. With the skill of a safe cracker she delicately adjusted the large knobs on the mammoth mahogany encased set. Shaking the baby bottle, the milk felt pleasantly warm on Moms wrist and I drank it in satisfaction.
She settled in with a soothing cigarette in one hand my bottle in the other just as the easy-going voice of Dave Garroway host of NBC’s Today Show could be heard.
“And how are you about the world today? he would begin, the relaxing conversational tone making Mom feel as if she were sitting in the studio with him.
“Lets see what kind of shape it’s in; there is a glimmer of hope”.
Of course that was the understatement of the day when with his chimp side kick Fred Muggs at his side, the scholarly looking Garroway jubilantly announced: “The Vaccine Works. It is safe, effective and potent.”
Mom would recall that the once in a lifetime excitement felt as if it were like another V-J Day, the end of a war. That it was announced on the ten-year anniversary of FDR’s death added to the poignancy.
The bespectacled Garroway’s trademark sign off of an upraised palm, uttering simply: “Peace” had never seemed more prescient.
It would, gratefully, be a terror I would never know.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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