With one look at images of children in iron lungs in the news, Mom and Dad had no argument about us kids receiving a polio vaccine.
They never questioned the “science.” My parents simply couldn’t-wouldn’t take the chance – however remote – that their children could become dreadfully ill.
Dr. David M. Oshinsky is history professor at New York University and director of the Division of Medical Humanities at the NYU-Langone Medical Center. His book Polio: An American Story, won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for History. In an April 10, 2015, story for NPR.org, author Linton Weeks wrote about Oshinsky and the defeat of polio:
“Word that the Salk vaccine [for polio] was successful set off one of the greatest celebrations in modern American history,” Oshinsky remembers. “The date was April 12, 1955 – the announcement came from Ann Arbor, Mich. Church bells tolled, factory whistles blew. People ran into the streets weeping. President Eisenhower invited Jonas Salk to the White House, where he choked up while thanking Salk for saving the world’s children.”
I wonder if the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine will warrant church bells?
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, our whole family went to the local school gym for several inoculations. We munched sugar cubes infused with the polio vaccine – a welcome departure from the earlier needle shots. Nurses used a special needle for the smallpox immunization, punching it around a few times into our skin to introduce the vaccine.
Today, a whole generation sports a round, shallow divot scar on our upper arms. In fact, the more pronounced the scar, the better the vaccine “took,” and that more others considered us safe to be around.
Instead of a mark on the arm, the folks in China now have a QR code (one of those weird squares with geometric designs) installed on their cellphones. The code reflects the user’s COVID-19 status – early signs, illness and recovery. With a green code, the individual enjoys unrestricted movement. A yellow code requires seven days of quarantine; red codes mean fourteen days of quarantine.
Meanwhile in America, as labs race to find a vaccine, tech giants Apple and Google work together to create a related computer app. Its aim is “helping public health authorities to perform contact tracing – that is, if you have come into proximity or contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus,” writes Forbes magazine’s T.J. McCue on April 24. Other countries are also developing coronavirus contact tracing apps including Germany, France, England and Australia.
Some opponents lament the loss of privacy for the sake of community health, surmising that COVID-19 shouldn’t warrant such efforts. Plus, computer apps are just a way for authorities to keep tabs on us. Apple and Google assure their app will be an “opt-in” application, not available to governments for citizen surveillance. I’m not sure how they can prevent that.
A meme making the rounds on Facebook pictures three intersecting circles: people taking COVID-19 seriously, people concerned about impending economic devastation and people worried about expansion of authoritarian government policies. The space where the three intersect is labeled “Me.”
The meme’s caption? “Believe it or not, it’s OK to be all three.”
I doubt Mom and Dad felt they had a choice.