Over at Making Light, Jim Macdonald has a response to the anti-vaccination movement, taking his cue from the Navy:
There’s a manual that every Navy gunnery officer is required to read or re-read every year: OP 1014; Ordnance Safety Precautions: Their Origin and Necessity. It’s a collection of stories about, and photographs of, spectacular accidents involving big guns and ammunition. Gun turrets that have fired on other gun turrets on the same ship. Holes in the coral where ammunition ships were formerly anchored. That sort of thing. It’s simultaneously grim and fascinating.
Nowadays there’s some kind of movement afoot for claiming that immunization against common childhood diseases is unnecessary. That they cause disease. That they’re harmful. It is true that rare adverse reactions to immunizations occur. It is also true that adverse reactions to the diseases themselves are not at all rare if you don’t immunize. So let’s call this post Immunizations: Their Origin and Necessity.
He follows that with a catalogue of some of the diseases that are prevented by childhood immunizations, a description of the symptoms, and some of the gruesome statistics of these once-common killers. It’s a sobering read.
Polio is included in Jim’s list, and is my personal touchstone for the origin and necessity of immunizations. A very dear friend of the family, an attorney who worked with my grandmother on Long Island, had a severe case of polio. He caught it in the 50′s, very shortly before Salk’s vaccine was developed, and it was devastating. Both of his legs were paralyzed, and he had trouble with his lungs as well. He used to have to sleep in a rocking bed, to help his breathing, which made it almost impossible for him to travel.
He didn’t let that stop him, though, and used to make regular trips to the Florida Keys with his father, to go fishing. He had a second rocking bed down there, that was stored by the owners of the motel they always stayed at. After his parents died in the early 80′s, my father and I made a few trips to the Keys with him, and those are some of my favorite memories. Getting him out on a bonefishing skiff was a major production, but well worth it for the experience.
And even though the effects of polio made it hard for him to raise his voice above what most people would call a whisper, he loved talking about just about anything. He’d talk for hours about law, politics, history, science, food and wine. And even when I was a little kid, he always talked to me seriously, not in that “I’m humoring a little kid” manner that some adults have. I always appreciated that.
I wish Martin had lived long enough to get to meet Kate. He would’ve really liked her, I’m sure, and she him.
When he was in the hospital in the early ’90′s (he developed some kind of aneurysm that was what eventually killed him), there was a nearly constant parade of medical students through his room (he got to where he could do most of the medical spiel that accompanied the tour). None of them had ever seen anybody with such a severe case of polio, and they had no reason to expect another opportunity.
And really, I can’t think of a better argument for vaccination than that. Polio is an absolutely horrifying disease, and you never want to be anywhere near catching it.
And thanks to Jonas Salk and widespread vaccination, you very likely never will.
Polio outbreaks used to be common– I’ve heard my aunts and uncles talk about the polio scares that used to close public swimming pools and the like, and those were regular features of life before Salk. Since the development of a safe and effective vaccine, it’s something that not even medical students see first-hand.
That’s why, as much as SteelyKid hates getting stuck with needles (and even though I can’t bear to watch), she’ll always get her shots. I’ve seen what the alternative looks like, and it’d be worth a thousand needle sticks to avoid that.