Ival Salyer: Take it from a Polio Pioneer, vaccines save lives

The polio vaccine protected millions of kids. Adults need to take the covid vaccine to protect kids.

By Ival Salyer / Herald Forum

As a semi-retired family physician reflecting on the resistance to requiring covid vaccines for staff in our schools, I remember an earlier time when we were battling another scary virus.

In the 195os, polio was a scourge. Our parents kept us away from swimming pools over fear that we would catch infantile paralysis and need leg braces or even an iron lung. In April 1954, hundreds of thousands of second- and third-grade students all over the U.S. were being asked to be Polio Pioneers in a huge trial to see if Dr. Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine was as safe and effective as it seemed. Dr. Salk had already given it to his kids. My scientist father read the reports and thought this still experimental vaccine was worth the risk. He signed me up. On the appointed day, I joined nearly all my classmates in a line that stretched out the door of our gym. We were all given Polio Pioneer cards. I can still remember watching the grimaces as I approached the doctor station, and baring my arm for the shot from that large syringe of purple vaccine; the first of three, spaced weeks apart. Some kids got the placebo. I happened to get the real thing. Whew, no need to get more shots! I was protected.

The nation rejoiced at the report in April, 1955 that the vaccine worked. A national push was made to vaccinate millions of kids. A year later, the rate of polio had dropped by a half. Polio vaccines were soon mandated for all school children, and polio essentially disappeared in the U.S.

Now our country is faced with battling the highly contagious covid delta variant. Once again, our children are at risk, especially with a return to the schoolroom looming. We need to surround them with protected adults. After millions of vaccinations, the results are clear: While “breakthrough” infections of those who have been vaccinated occur, it is rare any need hospitalization. Death is even rarer still among the vaccinated. Yes, a tiny portion of the vaccinated experience side effects, but there is no comparison to the suffering and lives lost from covid itself.

For those still unvaccinated, think of the covid vaccine as an opportunity rather than a mandate:the freedom to come together and get that shot as an act of love, to protect our kids in particular.

Ival Salyer is a family physician who joined Snohomish Family Medicine in 1978, a clinic that for years had a unique rotating one year sabbatical for teaching as well as working in underserved areas around the world. He retired from full-time family medicine in December 2018. He still lives with his wife in Snohomish, and enjoys occasional volunteer teaching at WSU’s Elson S Floyd. College of Medicine branch in Everett.

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