My mother shared a hospital room with a woman named Dot when they both gave birth, Dot to a daughter named Cynthia. They vowed their kids would share birthdays together, alternating between our home and theirs in our nearby Berkshire villages. Dot and her husband Howard, who had a woodworking business as did my Dad, became close friends over the years. Cynthia and I did, too.
Dot and Howard had been childhood polio victims, and the disease had left them severely disfigured and impaired. One side of Dot’s face was paralyzed, though it never dimmed her crooked but genuine smile. Howard was hunchbacked with a twisted torso and one leg shorter than the other, though he never let his condition interfere with business or family life. He walked with an awkward lurching motion, often with the help of a forearm crutch (a walking cane with a forearm brace added).
Widespread fear of polio was quite real throughout my early childhood. It was a terrible virus, paralyzing and killing seemingly at random, and like the current virus there was no effective defense against it.
Until Jonas Salk came up with a vaccine that could defeat it. There were no protests against using his vaccine. On the contrary, people were deeply grateful for it. They welcomed it and lionized Salk.
In recent years, routine mandated polio vaccination of children had eradicated it from America and had reduced the disease worldwide to relatively few cases. If the polio virus could be deprived of all hosts for a period of time, it would at last go extinct planet-wide, so the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation along with other charities and agencies set out to achieve just that, spending millions in a comprehensive effort. But anti-vaxxers and religious objectors and African terrorist groups interfered, intimidating and even killing vaccinators, so the valiant effort sputtered and failed. Leaving the polio monster alive and still lurking in the shadows. It’s on the prowl in several countries including Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. In some areas, cases are stealthily on the rise.
One faction of the recent widespread lockdown protest movement, vehemently objecting to the very measures meant to save them from sickness and death, has been the anti-vaxxers, those who have chosen to deprive themselves—and worse, their children—of vaccinations in general. They are apparently willing to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of others to scourging diseases like the current deadly virus on the altar of their own selfish beliefs.
I wish they could have met Dot and Howard, who would have given anything to have had access to the vaccine with the power to spare them from the horrors of polio, but which came too late for them.