There are numerous days on the calendar each year that are designated for one thing or another. Many of them are premeditated to get us to spend money, others to give us some fun, and a few are actually national holidays. In fact, virtually every day of the year is set apart for something. So much so, that since 1972, January 16th has been observed as “National Nothing Day.” Of course, they must share that day with “National Religious Freedom Day” and “National Fig Newton Day.”
Consequently, most of these days mean very little to us unless we have a vested interest in the particular subject. On occasion we come across one such day that provides a reminder and a call to action. That brings me to October 24th, “World Polio Day.” The purpose of the day is to remind us that we are on the verge of eliminating this debilitating and often deadly disease.
I was infected with the polio virus in the early fall of 1951. My father was a student at Howard Payne University and I was a healthy boy of eleven months, just learning how to stand and take a few steps.
I am told that the first symptom was fever, and I was diagnosed as simply having the flu. When the fever proved stubborn, my parents also noticed I was losing control of my legs and the ability to stand. That was the only time in my life that I have been able to simply stand on my own without the aid of braces and crutches.
I was infected just a few years before the vaccine was developed. In fact, great emphasis on developing a vaccine was spurred by the polio epidemic that swept the country in the early 1950’s. Hundreds of thousands of us became sick and several thousand died. Understandably, parents were afraid.
To give you an idea of how afraid people were in those days let me tell you the story of my own family. In order to get treatment, my parents moved from Brownwood to Fort Worth. I was in the hospital and Daddy found an apartment for Mama and my older sister. However, as soon as neighbors discovered they had a child with polio they were forced to move. This happened several times. Daddy told me that as soon as he found an available apartment he began looking for another one because he knew they would have to move again.
Lest you think we are too sophisticated for that kind of reaction today, think about how you would act if the neighbor in the next door apartment had a family member sick with Ebola. You might not ask them to move, but you would probably go stay with family or friends for the next few weeks.
Recently we learned the first Ebola victim in the United States was discovered in Dallas. The local news in Dallas made it the lead story with five reporters scattered around the city, reporting from the hospital, schools, neighborhood, and apartment complex where the patient was staying. This is in a day and time when we know how Ebola spreads. Imagine the fear of a disease when how it spreads is unknown, as was the case with polio in the 1950’s.
Since the vaccine was developed there have been several campaigns to eradicate the disease around the world. These campaigns have experienced great success, eliminating polio in all but three countries. There has been a 99% drop in the number of reported cases. This is amazing and certainly something to be celebrated.
I was very emotional each time we had our boys vaccinated for polio. Like any parent, I wanted to protect them from every danger, which is impossible. However, I could protect them from the virus that caused me so much harm, and I was not about to miss the opportunity.
The polio vaccine has been on my mind lately primarily because I have discovered there is a group of folks in this country who are refusing to have their children vaccinated. It is not just the polio vaccine, but all vaccines. It is causing some problems as large numbers of children are getting sick with Measles and Mumps and other childhood diseases that were common place when I was a kid. These diseases had all but disappeared, but are now returning. If this continues it is only a matter of time until someone travels to India or Nigeria and comes home with the polio virus.
I understand the reservations some have when it comes to giving vaccines to their children. I have read their material and there is no doubt these folks love their children and want the very best for them. I know what it is like to want to protect your children from everything – I get it.
Vaccines serve two purposes – to protect individuals and to protect society. The first is obvious. If I take a vaccine then it is likely I will not get the disease. The second purpose is a direct result of the first. If the number of people taking the vaccines is reduced then the potential harm to society increases. When I take a vaccine I am not only protecting myself, I am also protecting those around me who have not been vaccinated. For example, not only do I not get polio, but also I am unable to spread it to others.
There is a risk whenever we inject anything into our body. This seems to be the concern of those who refuse to take vaccines. There is talk that the vaccines cause problems that can be just as significant as the vaccinated disease. However, as far as I can tell the vaccines are quite safe and being made safer all the time.
These parents are simply saying they don’t want to take the risk of exposing their children to a disease caused by the vaccine and are willing to risk not getting the disease the vaccine is designed to prohibit. In a sense, they are relying on you and me vaccinating our kids so their kids don’t need to worry. In other words, they are letting us take what they consider a significant risk posed by the vaccine so they don’t need to do so themselves.
The flaw in this logic is that they are becoming quite evangelistic about not using vaccines. Consequently, the greater number of children who are unvaccinated the less protection for their own children. The best way to avoid the risk to your children is to not use the vaccines and only associate with children who are vaccinated.
In the Los Angeles area a school district where more than one quarter of the children have opted out of taking vaccines because their parents filed a “personal belief exemption,” has seen an outbreak of 61 cases of Measles. This is what will happen when those who refuse vaccinations come together in a community.
From my limited understanding, a vaccine is created from the disease and injected into the body in small and harmless amounts. The body’s immune system then produces its own protection. The antibodies that provide immunity are manufactured by the body, not a medical laboratory. The issue the some have is usually with additives included with the vaccine. I know this will upset some, but there has not been any extensive medical research that supports ignoring vaccinations.
I guess the point I am trying to make is that everything about life is a risk. Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk, as is staying in bed. Strapping your child in a car seat and then driving down the Interstate is a much higher risk than any posed by a vaccination. We must be careful that choosing to avoid the potential risks of immunizations provides a greater reward than choosing to expose our children to an infectious disease. Whichever position you choose will have an effect on those around you as well.
It would be great if this is the last year we need to observe “World Polio Day.”