polio vaccineSo, American parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children because of a misinformed (in my opinion) fear that vaccines might harm their babies. Now, diseases that had been practically wiped out – measles and whooping cough – have returned in alarming numbers. Cases of mumps are also on the rise. What’s next, polio?

All this hits very close to home. Polio forever changed my life back in the early ’50s, before the vaccine was available; I was only 8 months old. In 1952, the disease reached a peak in the U.S., but health experts report that it was eliminated in the Western Hemisphere by 1991. Other parts of the world, particularly impoverished and war-torn regions, are now seeing an increase in cases of polio because of problems immunizing those populations. And there is a concern that if the disease is not contained in places like Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, then polio could return to the Western world. That’s us, folks.

Reading news stories about the recent measles outbreaks, I wonder if the anti-vaccine parents ever think about their social obligation to help prevent others from getting the diseases. If they think vaccines can harm their children, they should also consider what polio can do. It can wipe out a child’s ability to walk before she’s even taken her first step. It can severely compromise breathing, use of hands and arms, even the basic function of sitting up on her own.

A child with polio faces surgeries, therapies, wheelchairs, braces and crutches, breathing machines. And pain — let’s not underplay both the physical and emotional pain that’s present all through the life of a person with this disability. As they age, polio survivors have post-polio syndrome to look forward to, which can greatly reduce their independence, and a medical bureaucracy not prepared to care for them.

Speaking of treatment, polio is expensive, and if there are future epidemics on our shores, will the March of Dimes return to its original focus – that of helping polio survivors? Hmm, I doubt it.

I don’t regret for one minute my life as a survivor of polio, but I would rather see the disease eradicated for all time than have any more children lose the ability to walk or breathe, or lead a life that parallels mine.

When my child received her doses of the polio vaccine, I cried and silently thanked Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin for their work on the vaccines that spared millions paralysis, even death. But, today, because some parents choose to believe in rumor and junk science, they put millions more children at risk, a completely unnecessary risk at that.