Polio has now been eradicated in the wild on the entire continent of Africa.
This is such thrilling news that when I read it, tears came to my eyes. I thrust the headline at my husband. LOOK AT THIS!
Only two countries are left, Afghanistan and Pakistan. How many people who live there have been maimed by polio, I wonder? It’s so sad. How long will it take until they’re free, too? Until no parent ever needs to worry about their child being crippled by a disease that could already have been extinct?
This brings us to... vaccinations.
Because of course the reason that polio is being wiped from the face of the earth is decades of public health efforts - and hundreds of millions of children getting their shots.
I have never been shy about my position on inoculation, which is: give it to me. Shoot me up with everything and give me an extra dose just in case. My mom tried to get me a smallpox vaccine when I was a kid, for which I thank her, and I remain a bit disgruntled that she was denied. I’ve considered getting vaccinated for rabies because hey, you never know.
All you preppers out there, surely you’ve considered this? Get your dentistry up to date, eye surgery maybe, and then the booster shots?
What I want to know is, what is the official anti-vaxx position on polio?
This is obviously a pretty important time to be thinking about public health and vaccines, considering that there are already several COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of development. There are, predictably, already protesters against a vaccine that isn’t even available for distribution yet.
It cracks me up that people think it will be foisted on them. Given how hard it still is to buy stuff like disinfecting wipes right now, how challenging it is to get tested for coronavirus, it’s almost refreshing that anyone thinks there will be enough COVID vaccines for everyone.
People like me might be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine within the first six months. Maybe. I say “people like me” because I have more than just the usual privilege. I’m also a COVID survivor, I live in a major hotbed for the virus, I have a strong desire to seek out a vaccine, and my doctor actually takes my calls. I’m a good test subject. Pick me, pick me!
I’m confident in my ability to eventually get the shot. I also know I won’t be in the first tier, or probably even the fourth. I’m not a medical professional, I’m under 50, I don’t have any health complications other than being allergic to coronavirus, I’m not a caregiver, and I don’t even work with the public. Why would I get dibs over anyone else?
I’ll tell you what. If a public health worker comes to your door holding a needle, please use the contact form and email me. I will get there as fast as I can and jump in front of you.
I’m able to embrace the concept of vaccination because of my place in history. My mom kept careful records and got us all our booster shots. School enrollment demanded it. In the Eighties, if you didn’t want to participate, too bad. We didn’t wear seatbelts (bad) and people smoked in front of babies (bad) and there were no vaccine exemptions or homeschooling. It was a different time.
It was also a time when the adults in the room remembered what these supposed “childhood diseases” were like. Some of them remembered from direct personal experience.
There are a bunch of people in my family tree who suffered through something terrible before there was a vaccination for it. This is not a compelling argument for the anti-vaxx community, for some reason - they seem actively jealous not to have lost their hearing to measles, for example - so let me use an animal model.
My mom had a puppy that died of parvo.
I was telling my husband this story a few years ago when it occurred to me to wonder: did that puppy get its shots? Was this a family ‘derp’ moment?
I Googled ‘parvovirus vaccine invented’ and found that it didn’t come out until 1979. That was years after that poor puppy died. There was nothing anyone could do.
Okay, work with me on this. Are anti-vaxxers claiming that there shouldn’t be a parvo vaccine for dogs? That it’s better for puppies to die than to get their shots?
Same argument. Are these people claiming that there should not be a polio vaccine? That it’s better for humans to die or be crippled by polio?
How about tetanus? Did you know tetanus has a 10% kill rate? (Similar but unrelated question: did you know that wolves only have a 14% kill rate? Crazy, right?)
Spare a thought for wolves, which have their place in this world. Explain to me, though, what place polio and parvo and measles and COVID-19 have. Why are we so obsessed with certain dangers toward humans and not others?
The reductio ad absurdum of the anti-vaxx position would be that [shifts posture, adopts cartoon voice] we need to reintroduce the viruses that we have eradicated so they can live free back where they belong!
Oh, um, which viruses are those? [checks notes] Smallpox and rinderpest? Would you like to also make a plea for Guinea worm?
The truth is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate a virus. When we have even a minor success, it’s still a major victory. When we take out smallpox, it makes us believe that we can take out polio. When we finally take out polio, it will give us hope that we can take out tuberculosis and malaria. After that, we can go back to scrolling through the list of these predators of humans, the viruses and the bacteria and the spirochetes and the fungi and all the rest.
In the meantime, let’s all pause in gratitude for the illnesses we did not contract. We’ve been insulated by decades of public health victories, which is absolutely the only reason that a loving parent could contemplate the prospect of ill children without waves of dread. We’ve been allowed to forget and it has made us over-bold. Let’s hope that this coronavirus pandemic will help more people snap out of it, so they can get behind me in line for - at least the flu shot.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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