My childhood friends and I spend a good deal of time reminiscing about the “good old days.” It is great fun, until we realize that those days were more “old” than “good.”
I thought of this recently, as news spread that a COVID-19 vaccine had been developed and that mass inoculations were being planned. Hearing this, I asked those friends if they recalled when our generation – post-WWII Baby Boomers – were “polio pioneers.”
They recalled that because polio was believed to be associated with warm weather, and as summer approached, kids who were out of school and ready to play outside were kept indoors and away from other children. Parents had reason to fear. In 1952 over 35,000 cases of polio were reported and almost every community seemed to have someone affected by the disease.
What we did not know was that research was under way to find a way to end the scourge.
And science prevailed.
First Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine that could be delivered by injection and it was.
The success was astounding. Between 1954, when the vaccine became available, and 1957, the number of reported polio cases in the U.S. had dropped 90 percent.
How was this accomplished?
My classmates and I were marched to the gym where a nice lady dressed in white stuck a needle in our arms, then gave us a cookie as a reward for being so brave.
Not all of us got a treat.
I recall a boy who had been something of a schoolyard bully being held screaming as the needle went in.
A girl, one of our class beauties, simply fainted away. (A couple of boys rushed forward to revive her, mouth-to-mouth, but teachers blocked them before they could do their good deed for the day.)
Shots were followed by the ritual of “hitting your friends on their sore arms,” which allowed us to ease our pain by hurting someone else.
The generation that followed mine was spared this, for in the 1960s, Dr. Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine and the needle was replaced by a sugar cube. Some of my friends went through the line twice to double up on the sweet treat.
Will it happen again?
Will mass inoculation bring down COVID-19?
Already there are some among us who vow not to take the shot or cube or whatever is used to deliver the vaccine. In the nether-world where conspiracies flourish, there are folks who reject all the trials and safeguards that have been used to guarantee that the vaccine is safe.
I wonder how many of today’s doubters and deniers would not be here now if their parents and grandparents had not taken the shot or eaten the cube.
Seen from that perspective, it may be time for us to roll up our sleeves, not only for us but for generations to come.ν