ohAmong my earliest memories, perhaps the earliest, is when I was four years old in 1946, living in the Bronx borough of New York City. I woke up with an excruciating headache and a sickening fever. I remember having a tube inserted into my private house to help me pass urine. I woke up again, I don’t know how much later, hours or days, in a hospital room. In the bed next to me was a man engaged in the terrifying contraption of what I now knew to be an iron lung to help him breathe.
I could breathe okay, and the terrible fever and headache subsided. But I could not move my leg.
Before long, my disease was called infantile paralysis, poliomyelitis, or polio. I had a relatively mild version. In two or three weeks, when the acute phase was over, I was taken across the Hudson River to a convalescent hospital in Haverstraw, New York. Over the course of months there, with the help of a dedicated staff member, I slowly regained strength on my feet. I could walk but not run yet. However, I can go to our apartment in the Bronx and be reunited with my brother and parents and start kindergarten on time.
Like most of America, we moved to the suburbs, to Connecticut and then to New Jersey. But winter after summer, the fear of the virus followed us, especially for my mother. Her brother contracted the form of the disease at a young age that kept him in a wheelchair for the rest of his decades. She lived in constant terror that one or both of her younger children would suffer, perhaps even worse than her older child.
Since 1954, the emergence of effective vaccines has surprisingly dispelled such fears.
This makes me the only member of our family with ongoing contact with polio. For me, having survived the worst effects of partial or complete paralysis, the lifelong effects of post-polio are occasionally excruciating but mostly exasperating.
up to now. My own experience with new disease agents, especially the coronavirus, and the symptoms of polio later in life, made me more aware of the potential danger of the polio virus in the future. Unless we humans commit to greater discipline to eradicate the virus completely, polio may have a new day in the sun. More broadly, other viruses can be harder to control because vaccines, the most effective tool against them, work best when everyone is treated.
A few years ago, things were more encouraging.
David M. Oshinsky’s 2005 book, Polio, American HistoryThe Pulitzer Prize-winning history of how individual scientists, universities, drug companies, private charities and government at all levels – working individually and together in the 1940s and 1950s – produced two competing anti-polio vaccines. The vaccines have become part of the daily routine for countless children in the United States and most other economically developed countries, largely preventing new polio infections there.
The next efforts turned to Asia, Africa and other underdeveloped countries.
In the year In 1988, the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched their Global Polio Eradication Program aimed at eradicating polio, where earlier efforts had been limited to smallpox. At the time, 350,000 children in 125 countries were infected, according to Rosemary Rockford, a virologist and microbiology professor at the Colorado School of Medicine. The conversation. In the year By 2021, the number is down to six cases worldwide, she wrote.
Meanwhile, the success of polio eradication paved the way for the development and introduction of measles vaccines in the United States in 1963. Combination “MMR” vaccines have become routine for children in the United States.
Then a problem arose. Some reports, although not necessarily accepted, have created a link between vaccines and autism. When the coronavirus hit, researchers and pharmaceutical companies quickly developed safe and effective vaccines to eliminate the many mutated versions of the Covid virus. But the other side of the vaccine-virus-virus equation — vaccinating everyone — just wasn’t readily available.
Be it politics, religion, fear of side effects, or a preference for individuality, some people have rejected the spirit of cooperation that has made other massive vaccination efforts so successful.
The commitment to social good necessary to address public health challenges has been demonstrated not only by the coronavirus, but also by diseases that seem to have been defeated by polio. An unvaccinated adult was infected in one of the suburbs of New York. Polio Virus samples were found in the city’s sewage.
These are still small signs. But these are my neighbors, my immediate neighborhoods. And we know that viruses mutate and can cause long-term damage.
I feel sorry for those who are struggling with long covid, because polio is a disease that can regress with age. I was in my 60s when I first started noticing my leg muscles atrophy. For a while, exercise helped. But as I turned 80 this summer, my leg weakness worsened. I have trouble with a slightly hilly sidewalk, for example. My doctor is the same age. There is no polio, there is no problem in the mountains.
As a species, we are slowly beginning to take steps to make our physical world more livable. We’re also learning how even the tiniest of organisms—insects and, yes, viruses—have adapted to our changing environment. Inventing vaccines may not be enough. We may need to adjust our behavior to help the vaccines work.
The scrapes and scars on my arms as a child were enough to convince my age group that they didn’t have to worry about smallpox, until we all got the same scars. It is time to realize that personal security depends on individual investment.
Paul Steiger is the founder of ProPublica and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. Dean Rothbart’s biography is scheduled for publication next year