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COVID-19 Vaccines Compared to Polio Vaccine of 1950s

Posted on Friday, August 13th, 2021

Public Attitudes Toward COVID-19 Vaccine and Polio Vaccine

An Op-Ed for the Marietta Monitor By Barbara W. Sessions on August 9, 2021

Recently, commentators have begun to compare anti-vaccine sentiments associated with COVID-19 to public attitudes toward polio and its vaccine in the 1950s. For more than 30 years, polio was a virus that left children and young adults, like President Franklin Roosevelt, paralyzed.  Almost everyone knew someone with polio. The highly infectious disease hit nearly every summer.

Those who survived the polio virus might end up using crutches, wheelchairs or put into an iron lung, which was a large tank respirator they needed to breathe. “Parents dreaded the very word polio, kept the kids home from swimming to avoid it and prayed for a cure,” guest columnist Mike Brake, a career Oklahoma journalist, wrote in the Sunday Oklahoman on August 8, 2021.

The famed “March of Dimes” campaign encouraged every American to contribute 10 cents toward research to find a vaccine  for polio in children. A doctor named Jonas Salk developed a vaccine in 1955.

“Within a year,” Brake wrote, “virtually every elementary school child had taken the shot to save themselves from a terrible disease.  A careful Google search turns up no Salk vaccine anti-vaxxers or holdouts. Dr. Salk was hailed as a national hero. . . parents kept faith in the process, and today polio is almost unknown in the western world.”

So what leaves almost half of Americans resisting the COVID-19 shots? Part of the problem, according to Brake, is that there is no widely-honored scientist like Dr. Salk attached to the COVID-19 vaccines.  Also, COVID-19 is a new disease. Had the virus been around 30 years already, its vaccines might be greeted with relieved acclaim like Salk received.

Ironically, the science behind the Pfizer and Moderna shots was in development for as long as doctors had been testing for a polio cure. With a massive infusion of funds during President Trump’s war on COVID-19, researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere were able to consolidate their findings to produce effective vaccines early in the pandemic. The FDA is expected to move them from emergency-use to full accreditation in the near future, reports say.

Realistically, the vaccines look more like a miracle than a menace. The thought that COVID-19 can be eradicated so quickly if people get the shots is music to the ears of the polio generation.