When I graduated from college in 1979, the commencement speaker was none other than Dr. Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine. I don’t honestly remember much of what he said, but I do remember being in awe. You see my childhood and, for that matter, the childhood of my entire generation, was in large part defined by the polio epidemic. I recall hearing stories about children living in iron lungs. Former President Franklin Roosevelt used a wheelchair. And the father of one of my friends walked with a leg brace following a battle with the disease. A rite of passage was lining up with all the other pre-kindergartners and our parents and siblings to receive the oral polio vaccine in a sugar cube. I was excited to finally be ready for school. My mom cried because we would all finally be protected from the deadly virus.
Polio was finally declared eradicated in the United States in the 1990s. Still today’s children are vaccinated for polio along with mumps, measles, and rubella, among others. In most public-school districts, many summer camps, sports teams, and universities, proof of vaccination is a requirement for enrollment. Recent vaccine developments include meningitis and HPV which are recommended for teens and young adults heading off to college. I don’t recall anyone I know resisting these basic, preventative, yet miraculous scientific developments. I am aware there are some people who are fundamentally opposed to any and all vaccines for a variety of reasons. While I don’t agree with them and believe they are taking risks with their family’s health, I respect their conviction and support their decisions.
There have been many comparisons between the historic polio epidemic and the current COVID19 pandemic. Both are viruses, can be deadly, can lead to long term damage, and both can be eradicated by vaccine. So why is there so much confusion and controversy around the COVID19 vaccine? In an article in Discover Magazine, Carl Kurlander at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote, “Developing the vaccine was a collective effort, from national leadership by President Franklin Roosevelt to those who worked alongside Salk in the lab and the volunteers who rolled up their sleeves to be experimentally inoculated.” He goes on to add, “That was a time, said Salk’s oldest son, Dr. Peter Salk, in an interview for our film, when the public trusted the medical community and believed in each other. I believe that’s an idea we need to resurrect today.”
For the past year and a half, like many of us, I have felt the weight of so much pain and loss. I’ve been isolated, sad, lonely, disheartened, and disillusioned. When I was finally able to be vaccinated alongside my husband and two of my children, my daughter and I hugged each other and cried tears of relief and gratitude. I waited anxiously until my son in another state could be vaccinated. I continue to marvel at the rapid development of this life-saving vaccine and the ongoing development of treatments for the virus. But I am also angry. Angry at those who have turned the virus and the vaccine into a political cudgel, to be used on either side of the aisle. I am angry that in this time of unlimited potential for information sharing, there is so much misinformation being weaponized to further any agenda other than ending this scourge that continues to kill. In my darkest thoughts, I feel despair about what this means for the future of our country and of humankind, and I pray I am wrong.
I am not a pessimist. Most people who know me would say I am most definitely a cockeyed optimist, often not seeing the darkness in front of me. So, I will finish with something positive. Ann Frank famously said two things that give me hope.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
About Barbara Dab
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner. Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world. The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org . and follow her on Instagram @barbdab58
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