Frightened parents kept their children isolated. Pools and schools were closed. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Frightened, paralyzed children were in hospitals hours from their homes, cared for by masked, protected strangers. Quarantine signs were on front doors.
There was no vaccine, no cure. Fear reigned. The children and young adults who were affected by the paralyzing polio virus were ostracized in their community long after the virus left their bodies.
Then, a miracle happened. The Salk Vaccine.
Over the last year we have seen lonely, frightened COVID-19 patients looking out hospital windows, praying for the touch of a loved one. We have learned hospitals could be overwhelmed and be forced to turn away those who need care. We lived in quarantine.
Although one is a respiratory virus (Covid) and one is spread by person to person contact (polio), we’ve seen that these viruses can spread even when the infected person has minimal or no symptoms. Through the gift of modern medicine, we have another miracle. Sadly, fear of that miracle reigns and as many as 40% of all eligible adults are “vaccine-hesitant.”
The fear created around vaccines brings sadness to a generation of survivors who are living with the lifelong, disabling effects of what is now a vaccine-preventable disease. These effects are known as post-polio syndrome (PPS). I am a living reminder of what a world without a vaccine looks like. I had a “mild” case of the poliovirus. I had only flu-like symptoms, no paralysis was visible and I was never hospitalized.
The late effects of polio have put me in a leg brace; I require a cane for stability; struggle to manage chronic pain and am dependent on a wheelchair for any distance walking – all because the miracle of the Salk vaccine came too late for me. My symptoms are minor compared to those who have lost all mobility or are struggling to take a breath.
Unfortunately, we are now hearing the word “long haulers” (post-Covid syndrome) being associated with the potential long-term effects in those who recover from even the most “mild” cases of COVID-19. Only history will be able to tell our health care professionals the truth of what damage this virus is leaving in its path of destruction.
Determined to serve other survivors experiencing the disabling, long-term effects of the polio virus and with other survivors and family by my side, we founded the PA Polo Survivors Network. At PPSN, our message on disease prevention is simple, positive and evidence based ... vaccines work. Each month that goes by, the data continually suggests the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.
We live in a time where it’s far too easy to be guided by misinformation and fear. Speaking not just for myself, but for the thousands of permanently disabled polio survivors in our network, we are hopeful that you will not let fear guide your decision. We want to inspire all to educate themselves on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine – not from angry TV pundits, but from easily accessed and credible vaccine information resources, which can provide the answers to many of your questions. We know for sure, that even the mildest cases of a virus can result in disabling, lifelong effects.
The eradication of smallpox through vaccines was a miracle. As a result of a worldwide focus on disease prevention and the importance of vaccination, polio is well on its way to being the second disease in history to claim this title.
We’ve seen what the world looks like without vaccines. Our compassion for those suffering long-term effects from COVID-19 reflects that. We look forward to the time when COVID19 is announced as eradicated.
We’re not afraid. Vaccines Work.
Carol Ferguson is the founder of the Pennsylvania Polio Survivors Network (PPSN), a Rotarian and member of the Bucks County Immunization Coalition. For more information on the late effects of polio and the effectiveness of vaccines, please visit: papolionetwork.org.