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Byron Shire
August 5, 2021

Before a vaccine – living in the time of polio

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We love to receive letters, but not every letter will be published; the publication of letters is at the discretion of the online and print letters editors.

Kundan Ewan, Main Arm

I was born in 1945. While I was a young child, my family went through a fearful time when I became ill during a polio epidemic. Fortunately, I had not contracted polio. I remember seeing kids who were not so fortunate, with metal braces on their legs. I have no idea what it must have been like to be confined in an iron lung.

I have a friend my age who was infected by polio. Here is an excerpt from a letter that he wrote to me:

‘I remember when I was in hospital for three months at age nine for tendon transplant surgery. It was needed to repair damage done to my hand by polio, which I got at age 15 months, because there was no vaccination at the time.

There were hundreds of other kids in the same hospital who were polio victims, most of whom were severely crippled, had been there for years and would never leave. It was deeply saddening for me as a child to see them, and tragic for them.’

Though it is suspected that polio has been around since ancient times, it wasn’t until the 20th century that it began appearing in epidemic proportions.

In 1952, the US had its worst outbreak with 57,628 cases reported that year. 3,145 died and 21,269 were left with mild to disabling paralysis. In 1955, the vaccine developed by Dr Salk was introduced in the US and by 1957 the number of cases in a year had dropped to 5,600 cases.

By 2017, only 22 cases of wild poliovirus infection were reported in the entire world, down from 37 reported cases in 2016. At the end of 2017, polio remained endemic in only three countries: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Though there is still a risk of polio’s resurgence, we no longer live in fear as people did in the middle of the 20th century.

We are blessed to live in a time when we have the benefit of science to help us to overcome diseases like polio that used to be common. There are still those of us who experienced the days before vaccinations. We are here to testify from life experience the important differences that science has made in our lives. Getting a COVID-19 jab is for more than your own health, it’s for those around you as well.’

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  1. Great points Kundan.

    You may also remember the “Cutter incident” involving the polio vaccine in its early days.

    I’m in awe of people willing to get the jab and participate in this particular trail for Covid-19. Time is the best judge, it’s a little too early to be spruiking the benefits of the present jab in my view.

    If an individual chooses to use history as a guide to make their decision to wait until they feel comfortable (not pressured) to get a needle, especially when their particular age cohort is of extremely low risk of death or serious illness from Covid-19, they should not be ridiculed or judged.

    More so, given emerging reports of those that have received their 2 jabs who are still contracting and dying from Covid-19.
    Also, there is no fool proof data that suggests those that have the jab will not transmit the virus to others. Therefore, suggesting an individual is being selfish (you haven’t but many do) for sitting this one out for the minute is preposterous.

    Time will tell, let’s all try and stay calm while the clock ticks.

  2. Hi Steve,what a relief to hear a nuanced view . I agree with your suggestion that time will tell. To that I also add if you are a team player , you will minimise travel and live cautiously until we have more data . Most people clearly are not prepared to do that . As you say time will tell.

  3. The above are just echoing our PM in saying we are not in a race.I’m afraid we do not have time.
    This disease is here now!

  4. Paul , I did not say that . I agree with you in that I believe it is urgent that we attempt to slow the spread of covid ., But I also recognize that no amount of debate will sway many people … Therefore I think personally that we have missed the boat. I was just so relieved to read a less extreme view posted by Steve above mine . My attempt at irony obviously failed .


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