Americans are vaccinated against trust in government and science

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Studies have shown that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are about 94% effective in preventing disease and that unvaccinated people are five times more likely to contract COVID and 29 times more likely to be hospitalized for it.

Why then have only just over 50% of eligible Americans been fully and 64% partially vaccinated since these vaccines were first authorized on an emergency basis nine months ago?

Even more puzzling, why does the COVID vaccination program meet greater opposition than Salk’s polio vaccination campaign of the 1950s?

In the face of sobering data on the risks of vaccine decline, anti-vaccines have become increasingly scathing in their criticism of government and employer mandates demanding COVID injections as well as other public health measures such as as masking and testing. They argue that the warrants infringe personal or religious freedom, that vaccine safety has not been proven, or that the entire vaccination program is a nefarious plot to implant the secret state surveillance chips in our body.

Maybe the anti-vaccines should mimic Dorothy’s creepy song in The Wizard of Oz – “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my god!” – and adopt the slogan “Vaccines and masks and tests, Oh my God!” “

I don’t remember such paranoid resistance to the Salk polio vaccination campaign from my youth.

According to the CDC website, polio (or polio) is a crippling and life-threatening neurological disease caused by poliovirus. The virus is spread primarily through person-to-person contact through sneezing and coughing. Of those infected, 72% have no visible symptoms, 25% have flu-like symptoms, one in 25 develops meningitis, and one in 200 becomes paralyzed or very weak in the arms, legs, or both.

The most famous polio victim was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, as an adult, lost the use of his legs in 1921. But the disease mainly attacks children, 90% of those paralyzed under 5 years old. years (hence the other name, “infantile paralysis”).

In the early 1950s, tens of thousands of people in this country and hundreds of thousands around the world were crippled by polio every year. The iron lung – a respirator that enveloped the body and adjusts air pressure to mechanically aid breathing in patients who had experienced loss of muscle control in their diaphragm was as prominent a symbol of polio as the ventilator is. become of COVID-19 today.

I was in elementary school when the Salk vaccine was approved. I was (and still am) phobic about needles, but my mom didn’t care. Even though my pediatrician had to chase me around the office to administer the injection, Mom was determined to get the projectile into my arm. She was not going to let one of her children be at risk for this dreaded disease if it could be prevented.

She wasn’t alone in his opinion either. If I remember correctly, the vaccination program was widely accepted by the public at the time. However, not wanting to rely on childhood memories, I did a bit of historical research looking for corroboration. Here is what I found.

Working at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, researcher Dr Jonas Salk developed a revolutionary vaccine using viruses that had been killed in the laboratory by the application of formaldehyde. This approach went against the established paradigm of contemporary virologists, who believed that the correct method was to isolate a live, but weakened virus, and administer it to patients to create a low-grade, harmless infection that would confer immunity. long-term.

In 1954, Salk undertook a massive voluntary clinical trial involving 1.8 million children in 44 states from Maine to California. (About 440,000 actually received the vaccine, with the remainder serving as a control group that received either a placebo or no vaccination). The trial was carried out with the cooperation of lay volunteers, health professionals and health services across the country. The result, which established the vaccine as safe and effective, was announced on April 12, 1955.

Large-scale vaccinations followed Salk’s discovery. I was unable to find statistics on the number of shots delivered, but the results show a high degree of compliance. The annual number of reported paralytic cases in the United States fell from 35,592 with 1,450 deaths in 1953 to 5,485 with 221 deaths in 1957 to 1,312 with 90 deaths in 1961. The data showed an even greater decline when the number of polio cases imported from abroad was excluded.

This does not mean that there were no complications from the vaccine. In 1955, a pharmaceutical company produced a bad batch of vaccine, which failed to completely kill the viral ingredient and resulted in the paralysis of 250 children and the death of 10. A contaminated batch of a second company is believed to have paralyzed and killed several children. These incidents have, to some extent, reduced public confidence in the vaccine and resulted in lower vaccination rates.

Overall, however, the Salk vaccination campaign has been a huge success. It was followed in 1961 and largely superseded by an even more effective vaccine using the Sabin vaccine, which employed a live, attenuated form of the virus that could be administered orally. Thanks to these vaccination programs, polio was completely eliminated in the United States in 1979, in the Americas in 1994, in Europe in 2002 and in India in 2014. Only 33 cases were reported worldwide in 2018, with epidemics limited to Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. .

So what was different in 1955 compared to 2021?

I would like to think Americans were more rational back then, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. The 1950s were an era of anti-Communist paranoia and witch-hunts and a violent backlash by southern whites against the civil rights movement. Nor has there always been a clear-sighted approach to public health, as exemplified by opponents of fluoridation of public water supplies, who have vilified it as a communist plot.

There was, however, greater confidence in government, science, and public institutions in general, and we were thankfully free from those monumental 21st century platforms of disinformation – the internet and social media.

The result was that the American public in the 1950s saw the vaccine for what it was, a beneficial public health measure, if not a scientific miracle, and parents adopted it to protect their children from the scourge of a debilitating and potentially fatal disease.

Elliott Epstein is a litigator with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His column Rearview Mirror, published in the Sun Journal for 15 years, analyzes the news in a historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child”, a book about the 1984 murder of Angela Palmer’s children. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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