Guest Column: The Polio Vaccine

It was a Friday night in September 1950. I was seven years old and my dad had been teaching me the racing start for a county race I was expected to run in that Sunday. Overnight, I started to feel some aches and pains, tried to get up from bed and collapsed. I couldn’t walk for months and never ran again.

My five months in the hospital, leg brace, two surgeries and  severely atrophied right leg were the result of infantile paralysis, more commonly known as polio. Nothing in my 78 years was more impactful to me and my family. I still have trouble talking about it.

This all brings me to a waiter named Eddie, whom I recently met at a nearby hotel. When asked whether he had been vaccinated for COVID-19, Eddie simply answered, “No, I never get sick.” I couldn’t help but ask him whether as a child he had been vaccinated for polio. He looked at me, perplexed, and said, “Of course, I was.” The irony apparently escaped Eddie.

Only a few years after I contracted polio, the polio vaccine was first introduced. Parents could not get their children vaccinated fast enough. Today, because of Salk and Sabin, two great men in my personal Hall of Fame, polio has been virtually eliminated in the world. When my two children got their polio vaccine, I could have cried knowing they never had to go through what I endured.

As bad as polio was, I did not suffer the life-threatening consequences that COVID-19 victims often do. Yes, polio sometimes killed, but the overwhelming number of polio victims did not die; we were simply left paralyzed.

 Over 625,000 Americans have already died horrible deaths because of COVID-19, and yet even with the highly transmissible Delta variant rising exponentially, only one half of our eligible people are fully vaccinated. I will never understand why.

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