Interesting read. Anti-vax people should read it. I remember this, and knew a girl who lived in an iron lung in her parent’s living room.
This man is a year older than I am. It is impossible to exaggerate the fear of polio and its horror that existed prior to the Salk vaccine. I got my vaccination when I was 7 years old during the first vaccine trial. Paul Alexander fears that because most people today don’t remember what polio and other terrible diseases were like, vaccination rates will fall and the diseases will make a comeback.
This is a long article that I encourage you to read. This man’s life has been amazing. He has accomplished much – including getting his law degree – by sheer grit and determination. Paul Alexander is someone to learn from. I don’t think I could have done a tenth of what he has done if I had been in the same situation. Heck, I haven’t had any of the hurdles that he had to overcome, and I STILL didn’t do what he has!
When he was six, Paul Alexander contracted polio and was paralysed for life. Today he is 74, and one of the last people in the world still using an iron lung.
In the US, from 1916 onwards, each summer brought an epidemic of polio in some part of the nation. At its peak in the 40s and 50s, the virus was responsible for more than 15,000 cases of paralysis in the US each year. During this same period, it killed or paralysed at least 600,000 people annually worldwide. The year Paul contracted the virus, 1952, saw the largest single outbreak of polio in US history: almost 58,000 cases across the nation. Of those, more than 21,000 people – mostly children – were left with varying degrees of disability, and 3,145 died.
Paul has always thought that polio, the “demon” that tried to destroy him, was going to come back. “I can see hospitals inundated by polio victims again, an epidemic, I can see it so easily. I tell the doctors, it’s going to happen. They don’t believe me,” he told me when he was in hospital last year.
It is only thanks to concerted vaccination efforts that there hasn’t been a new case of polio in the US since 1979, or in the UK since 1984. By 2000, the World Health Organization had declared all of the Americas and the western Pacific region polio-free. India, which had seen 200,000 cases of polio a year through the 1990s, was declared polio-free in 2014 after a series of aggressive vaccination campaigns. The virus is now only endemic to three countries in the world – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – and cases of polio number in the dozens.
But Paul was right that most people have largely forgotten about the terror of polio, just as we have forgotten the terror of other diseases we now routinely vaccinate against – diphtheria, typhus, measles and mumps. And that could be fertile ground for their return if we do not remain vigilant. It’s hard to imagine, in the middle of this pandemic, that we’ll forget Covid-19, too. But we might. It’s hard to remember our nightmares the day after. The lesson of polio – and of every time we are confronted by our own terrible fragility and survive – is that sometimes we need to remember.