Karen Maines is a Registered Dental Hygienist in Longview, Texas, a passionate local city volunteer and 2019-20 President of the Longview Greggton Rotary Club. 
  
"What's an iron lung?"
This question was asked of me last week -- by a long-time health professional in her 40's. I admit that I didn't say anything for a second. At first, I thought she was joking around, but then it sank in that she honestly had no idea what I was talking about. 
 
After I thought about it later, it made more sense that, due to her age, she wouldn't know about iron lungs, or about Polio. 
 
 
I remember being around 6 or 7 years old, and standing in line for what seemed like a really long time, waiting for the promise of a single sugar cube.  I knew at that young age that it must have been very important, because so many people were in line with me and my family. Everyone we knew from church, from our neighborhood, from school, they were all there. In line for a sugar cube. 
 
It was later, when I was older, that I learned about Polio. Polio was why my mom's friend's daughter went away and never came home. Polio was why a girl about my age missed a year of school and then returned in a wheelchair. Polio was why my dad's coworker couldn't walk without his leg braces and walking sticks. Polio was why the Deacon at church and my junior high science teacher both had one leg smaller and shorter than the other one. I learned in History about how Polio had crippled and later killed President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And on, and on...
My parents and the parents across the country praised Dr. Sabin and Dr. Salk for the miracle of a vaccine against the terror of Polio.
 
That was then. Today's generation in this country is not familiar with the terror of a highly contagious disease that could strike without warning, was able to kill or paralyze within hours, affected the poor and privileged alike, and for which there is still no cure.
 
At its peak in the 1940's and 1950's, polio would paralyze or kill OVER HALF A MILLION PEOPLE worldwide every year.
Polio is completely preventable by vaccine. Once mandatory vaccination began in the United States in 1955, it was still 1979 before our country was declared polio- free. Twenty- four years.
 
Today, Polio is still killing and paralyzing children who haven't been vaccinated, ripping away normal lives forever.
Today, Polio is only a plane ride away. Only three years ago, India was declared polio-free. In the two remaining countries where new Polio cases are diagnosed -- Pakistan and Afghanistan -- political and religious fears have resulted in a doubling of cases from last year to this year.  In Afghanistan, religious leaders are working feverishly to get word to the people that the vaccine can save lives. 
 
Eighty-eight cases so far this year could become 8,000 or 80,000. In 1988, there were 350,000 new cases. The World Health Organization, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ROTARY INTERNATIONAL have partnered to eradicate this dreadful disease from the planet, just as Smallpox was eradicated.
 
Polio is completely preventable by vaccination, and yet, having no first- hand familiarity with this devastating disease, more and more parents are willing to gamble with their children's very lives, opting to not vaccinate against Polio and other highly contagious diseases. This also places children too young to have received all 4 Polio doses at risk as well.
The greater the proportion of individuals in a community who are immune, the smaller the probability that those who are not immune will come into contact with an infectious individual.
 
Mass vaccination to induce "herd immunity" has proved successful in preventing the spread of many infectious diseases. However, the CDC states that "opposition to vaccination has posed a challenge to herd immunity, allowing preventable diseases to persist in or return to communities that have inadequate vaccination rates".
Some parents claim vaccines are linked to developmental conditions. According to our country's Centers For Disease Control -- "Thousands of studies have already been done looking at hundreds of potential risk factors. If immunizations were identified as a risk factor in any of these studies, we would know about it. So far, they have not."
Some parents claim exemption for religious reasons, however, in 1944, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that "The right to practice religion does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death."
 
October 24 is WORLD POLIO DAY, which the listed organizations use to  inform all about this heartbreaking disease. Please contact your elected officials, urging them to enforce the Supreme Court ruling and mandate vaccinations for all, exempting only those with true health restrictions before future generations in this country watch helplessly as this highly contagious disease claims a single victim.
 
"What's an iron lung?"  I pray that future generations will never know.
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