I have been watching the debate regarding parents having the personal-belief right to opt out of administering vaccines to their children. There are two factors that are paramount in this debate. One, the majority of those parents have been protected from the very same diseases via immunizations administered to them when they were young. Two, there is no societal memory of having to watch one’s child struggle through the ravages of these diseases.
I would like to address polio, a disease that has played a major role in my life. As a child, I was one of 57,628 children and adults who were afflicted by polio in 1952. I was hospitalized for six months 150 miles away from my home in rural Wyoming.
After returning home, it was three years before I had enough strength and stamina to return to school full time. My parents never recovered financially from the costs associated with my hospitalization and rehabilitation, even though much of it was covered by the March of Dimes.
I went on to live a fairly normal life, which made me one of the fortunate. I am the mother of two grown children and the grandmother of two healthy teenage granddaughters, and I feel so very fortunate that they are not at risk of contracting polio or any of the other diseases that can now be prevented through vaccination. And yes, for the past several years post-polio syndrome has become my constant companion.
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I recognize that the vaccines being used are not entirely without risk, but I urge everyone to personally research the risks these diseases bring to the unvaccinated before making their decision.
In children, paralysis due to polio occurs in 1 in 1,000 cases, while in adults, paralysis occurs in 1 in 75 cases. In 1952, shortly before the development of the first polio vaccine, there were 57,628 cases of polio in the United States. This resulted in 3,145 deaths. It also resulted in 21,269 individuals left with mild to disabling paralysis.
According to the World Health Organization, there are currently 10 million to 20 million polio survivors worldwide. Polio is still endemic in Afghanistan and India, and global travel can place everyone worldwide at risk of exposure. In addition, 15 to 40 years after the original illness, new disabilities are appearing as post-polio syndrome. This can lead to many of the polio survivors having to use wheelchairs or ventilators for the rest of their life.
Please think of the 57,628 individuals and their families who experienced the lifelong disabilities or loss of life from this disease in 1952. And this is just one of the several diseases that infected, maimed and killed prior to the development of childhood vaccines for communicable diseases.
Take the time to research the historical morbidity and mortality of all of these other preventable diseases prior to trying to mandate by law that the choice to vaccinate is a personal right.
Life does not come without risk – and at times we must choose the option that best protects not only our own child but also everyone’s children from the greatest harm.
Georgia Bihr lives in Colorado and spends a lot of time in Sacramento. She is a microbiologist and former immunization action coordinator for the state of Nebraska.