There is a lot of debate today about vaccinations. You find parents in the pro group and parents in the con group. Parents have the right to deny vaccinations to their children. When I was growing up, no one even thought about not taking your vaccinations. It was a given.
In the 1950’s, children had mumps, chicken pox and measles. There were no shots to prevent them. I had all three in first grade, one right after the other. Since I was a big reader, I just read all day long. Some days were not as pleasant and I slept. No big deal. I had all the regular vaccinations-smallpox, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough also known as pertussis. My parents remember how dangerous those diseases were and had friends or relatives who had died from these serious illnesses. They never considered refusing vaccinations for me or my younger sister.
We also had another disease in the 50’s that was pretty scary. It was infantile paralysis or polio. It was the “most” feared disease because nothing could be done. Once someone contracted polio, doctors could only treat the symptoms. In 1952 over 60,000 children had polio. More than 3000 died. Scary. Really scary. There was believed to be a link to public pools. Late summer was even called polio season. Public pools were drained and closed. It was a terrible time.
I had a friend who had polio. She was lucky. She spent time in the hospital in an iron lung. It would breathe for her. She laid in it all day for several weeks. She also spent time at Warm Springs in rehab. Franklin Roosevelt had also been there. She gradually learned to walk again with braces on her legs and crutches to support her. She was one of the happiest people I knew. She had survived. The fact that she would never run and play again was not important to her. She was alive!
Then a miracle happened. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio. It was tested and found to be effective. People everywhere wanted this vaccine for their children. In our town, the first people vaccinated were the children. And since there were so many, the city decided to set up a public vaccination center in a local high school. It was a grey rainy day. I remember it exactly. We found a place to park and walked a few blocks to the high school and in the double front doors. Both my parents were with me. We stood in line for a while. I am sure there was a form to sign but I don’t remember anything about that. We inched closer to the nurses who were distributing the vaccine. They were dressed in white dresses, white hose, white shoes and white nursing hats. Finally it was my turn. The nurse handed me a little white cup with a sugar cube in it. The vaccine was dropped on the cube. I put it in my mouth and it melted and tasted just like sugar. And just like that, polio left my present and my future. It was a miracle on a sugar cube!