From a really interesting article about the people still living in iron lungs:
“All the mothers were just terrified because people were just getting it right and left,” Lillard said. “They didn’t know if it was a virus or bacteria or how you caught it.”
Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis of legs, arms, and respiratory muscles. “The polio virus is a silver bullet designed to kill specific parts of the brain,” Richard Bruno, a clinical psychophysiologist, and director of the International Centre for Polio Education said. “But parents today have no idea what polio was like, so it’s hard to convince somebody that lives are at risk if they don’t vaccinate.”
I’ve long theorized that a big reason why anti-vaxxers have gotten any traction at all is precisely because vaccines are so effective. So many catastrophic diseases have been effectively eradicated by vaccines in rich countries that parents no longer perceive a meaningful threat. They are then free to indulge in the fantasy that the real threat is actually the doctors working to eliminate these diseases.
When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent’s worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralyzed and 3,145 died. “They closed theaters, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission,” Bruno said.
By 1961, there were only 161 reported cases in the US. But in 1988, there were still an estimated 350,000 cases worldwide. That year, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Rotary International began an aggressive campaign to end polio everywhere. Last year there were 37 cases reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
According to Bruno, if an infected person in either of those countries visited family in an area like Orange County, California, where many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children, “then we could be talking about the definition of a polio epidemic.”
The result of this ignorance and superstition is potentially catastrophic.