I got a flu shot last week. It didn’t hurt and I got a nice booklet of coupons for my trouble.
It seems that getting an annual vaccination for a variety of ills has turned routine, something we take for granted. One local pharmacy will even bring the shots to your workplace.
But it wasn’t always that way.
There have been times, in the not-so-distant past, that preventative measures were not available to the public. Epidemics occurred. People became sick and sometimes died.
The best you could do was avoid everybody and pray.
Poliomyelitis was one of those dreaded diseases that we seldom hear about – or worry about – today.
One of our longtime readers, Hilda Harned saw an article in another publication about Polio Sundays and wondered if we could dig up similar information in our archives.
Hilda was a registered nurse in LaRue County for many years. She worked at the Hodgenville Clinic for Dr. J.D. Handley and Dr. J.W. Bradbury – and if you are of a certain age, more than likely, it was Hilda who gave your vaccinations.
As a health care professional, she knew about polio, which she called a “dreadful crippling disease.”
If you grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, you knew about polio. You couldn’t go swimming or around large groups of your friends in the summer. Your mother was afraid you’d be infected by what was also known as infantile paralysis.
The disease affected the gray matter and could appear in three forms: abortive, which was mild and flu-like; nonparalytic polio which resulted in some neurological symptoms such as sensitivity to light and neck stiffness; and paralytic polio, which was less common, but more devastating, resulting in muscle paralysis, respiratory difficulty and sometimes, death.
In the past, patients sometimes never regained use of their legs. Others spent their lives in an iron lung – a large machine that pushed and pulled the chest muscles to make them work.
There was no reason to think you would be spared. The disease wasn’t limited to the impoverished. It was the disease that struck Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1921.
It became an epidemic in 1952, with about 60,000 cases and 3,000 deaths reported in the United States.
A vaccine was invented by Jonas Salk and became available in 1955. An oral vaccine was developed by Albert Sabin and became common by 1964. It was sometimes administered on a sugar cube.
I can remember getting the sugar cube – but I had no idea why. (Give me a break, I was about 4.)
In 1962, The LaRue County Herald News published reminders of a vaccination clinic three weeks on the front page. The articles urged “Let’s free LaRue County of polio.” The vaccine was offered to “all from 1 to 100 years old and a donation of 25 cents was requested per patient. Clinics were set up at LaRue County High School, Magnolia Elementary School and Dr. Crabtree’s office in Buffalo.
That October, LaRue County’s oldest resident “Aunt Susan” Garrett, 113, was pictured receiving a dose of Type 1 Sabin oral polio vaccine from health department nurse Helen O’Dell.
A follow-up article stated that almost 5,000 people took the vaccine.
Harned said she recalls those “Polio Sundays” in LaRue County. They were held at the Woman’s Club in Hodgenville.
“I doubt that many remember just how lucky we are, not to have this disease to worry about,” she said.
According to kidshealth.org, thanks to vaccination clinics like the ones in LaRue County, polio was virtually eliminated from the U.S. by 1979 and the Western hemisphere by 1991.
It’s still recommended that children have four doses of inactivated polio vaccination between the ages of 2 months and 6 years.
According to the World Health Organization, four countries, Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan, still have polio circulating, and the virus could be introduced to other countries. Humanitarian efforts to eradicate the disease in those countries continue.