Tag: polio

Who is Alexander Langmuir?

Alexander Langmuir is typically described as a hero or titan of public health.

Then why do some folks think he was against the flu and measles vaccines?

Who is Alexander Langmuir?

Dr. Alexander Langmuir has been called the father of infectious disease epidemiology.

Why?

In 1949, he established the CDC’s Epidemiology Program. Actually, at the time, the CDC was still called the Communicable Disease Center.

Dr. Alexander Langmuir and his Polio Surveillance Unit at the EIS in 1955.
Dr. Alexander Langmuir and his Polio Surveillance Unit at the EIS in 1955.

Dr. Langmuir, as Chief Epidemiologist at CDC for 21 years, also:

  • founded the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS)
  • instituted a malaria surveillance system
  • established national disease surveillance system for the United States
  • was involved in resolving the Cutter incident
  • brought the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to CDC
  • investigated the swine influenza virus vaccine incident, when it was thought that some people developed GBS after getting the new swine flu vaccine in 1976

His work saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Don't believe any propaganda or quotes without sources attributed to Alexander Langmuir.
Don’t believe any propaganda or quotes without sources attributed to Dr. Alexander Langmuir.

Did he ever tell folks to not get a flu shot?

Was he ever concerned about mercury in flu shots?

Considering that Dr. Langmuir died in 1993, before folks became concerned about thimerosal in vaccines, that’s unlikely. That’s especially so considering that the only place you can find these types of quotes are on anti-vaccine websites.

Still, Langmuir was critical of flu shots.

“From this appraisal of the experience in the past three and one-half years, it is apparent that progress in the control of influenza has not been impressive.”

Langmuir et al. on The Epidemiological Basis For The Control Of Influenza

He didn’t think that they worked well enough. Or more importantly, he didn’t think we had enough information about how well they worked.

“Our information regarding the occurrence of influenza is largely qualitative. Schools close, absenteeism increases, medical services become taxed, virus isolations and serological identifications are made in great numbers, and daily accounts appear in our newspapers and on television. We know we have an epidemic and we know its specific cause, but we have few quantitative measures of incidence, age- and sex-specific attack rates, and character and severity of complications. Further- more, we have only crude data regarding mortality. We do not know what proportion of excess deaths occurs among reasonably active and productive citizens in contrast to deaths among persons who are already invalids suffering from severely debilitating pre-existing disease. Despite this serious deficiency we base our recommendations for vaccine use largely on mortality experience. We undertake major efforts to produce influenza vaccine in large amounts, but we have no meaningful information regarding its actual distribution. We do not know to what extent it actually reaches persons at highest risk.”

Langmuir et al. on A Critical Evaluation of Influenza Surveillance

But he wasn’t anti-vaccine.

And he never said that flu shots weren’t safe.

“The availability of potent and effective measles vaccines, which have been tested extensively over the past 4 years, provides the basis for the eradication of measles in any community that will raise its immune thresholds to readily attainable levels.”

Langmuir et al. on Epidemiologic Basis For Eradication Of Measles In 1967

And concerning all that he did in the field of public health, he is certainly not someone that anti-vaccine folks should be quoting.

More on Alexander Langmuir

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

Believe it or not, some folks don’t think that vaccines work and that some diseases, like smallpox and polio, never really went away.

Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.
Want the real truth? Residual paralysis that lasts more than 60 days is the strongest predictor that a case is really polio, which is why, in addition to testing for polio virus, the 60 day standard is used.

Of course, they have special little theories for how this all works.

Did Modern Ventilators Replace the Iron Lung for Folks with Polio?

In addition to thinking that we just change the names of diseases when we want them to go away, some folks think that we don’t see anyone in iron lungs anymore, not because polio has been eliminated, but because modern ventilators simply replaced the iron lung.

Is that true?

The iron lung, invented in 1927, helped people with polio breath.

In fact, in the 1940s and 1950s, there were whole hospital wards full of polio patients in iron lungs.

Unlike most of today’s ventilators, the iron lung is a negative pressure ventilator. In contrast, most modern ventilators, the ones that you see people hooked up to with a tube going down to their lungs, are positive pressure ventilators.

Iron Lung

What’s the difference?

A positive pressure ventilator pushes air into your lungs. They are useful when you have a lung disease or simply can’t breath on your own.

When people had polio, there usually wasn’t anything wrong with their lungs – it was their chest muscles and diaphragm that were the problem. So the negative pressure in the iron lung would compress and decompress their chest.

One benefit of the iron lung included that it was less invasive than ventilating someone through a tracheostomy, which became an option in the 1960s. While many new options became available for those needing long term ventilation since then, including noninvasive positive pressure ventilation, some still like to use their iron lungs.

Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books.
Thanks to vaccines, most folks will only see an iron lung in a museum and read about polio in history books. Photo by Oscar Tarragó, M.D., M.P.H.

And while it is true that they don’t make them anymore, iron lungs have not disappeared. There are some folks with polio that still use them.

But what if someone developed polio now, would they be put in an iron lung?

No, they wouldn’t. For one thing, they don’t make iron lungs anymore. Instead, they would likely use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation.

Still, we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio, needing to use mouth intermittent positive pressure ventilation, instead of iron lungs these days. And that’s because we don’t see a lot of folks getting diagnosed with polio.

Vaccines work. Polio is almost eradicated.

What to Know About Polio, Modern Ventilators and Iron Lungs

Although some people with polio are still using their iron lungs, the main reason we don’t see more people with polio needing to use iron lungs or modern ventilators is simply because polio is almost eradicated.

More on Ventilators and Iron Lungs

The Myth That Polio Only Went Away Because They Changed the Way It Was Diagnosed

Have you heard this one?

“Before the vaccine was developed, the diagnosis of polio required 24 or more hours of paralysis. After the vaccine release, the diagnosis changed to at least 60 days of paralysis. As you can imagine, cases of polio dropped significantly.”

So that’s why polio went away?

It wasn’t the vaccine?

The Myth That Polio Went Away Because They Changed the Diagnostic Criteria

In 1952, there were 21,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States.

But were there really?

Didn’t they change the way they diagnosed polio a few years later, right after the first polio vaccines came out, making it less likely that folks would be diagnosed with polio?

The original diagnostic criteria for polio came from the World Health Organization and included:

“Signs and symptoms of nonparalytic poliomyelitis with the addition of partial or complete paralysis of one or more muscle groups, detected on two examinations at least 24 hours apart.”

It changed in 1955 to include residual paralysis 10 to 20 days after onset of illness and again 50 to 70 days after onset.

Why?

“In the past children’s paralysis was often not correctly diagnosed as polio. Stool samples need to be analyzed to be able to distinguish paralytic symptoms from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, transverse myelitis, or traumatic neuritis.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But you coulld’t just use stool samples, as many kids might have recently had non-paralytic polio, and could test positive for polio (false positive test), but have another reason to have paralysis.

“Isolation of poliovirus is helpful but not necessary to confirm a case of paralytic poliomyelitis, and isolation of poliovirus itself does not confirm diagnosis.”

Alexander et al. on Vaccine Policy Changes and Epidemiology of Poliomyelitis in the United States

Since polio causes residual paralysis, the new diagnostic criteria helped to make sure that kids were diagnosed correctly.

Did We Overestimate the Number of Kids with Polio?

Some folks think that since we changed the criteria, we overestimated the number of kids with polio in the years before the vaccine came out.

Most of this idea seems to come from a panel discussion in 1960 by critics of the original polio vaccine, The Present Status of Polio Vaccines, including two, Dr. Herald R. Cox and Dr. Herman Kleinman, who were working on a competing live-virus vaccine.

None in the group were arguing against vaccines, or even really, that the Salk polio vaccine didn’t work at all though. They just didn’t think that it was effective as some folks thought.

“I’ve talked long enough. The only other thing I can say is that the live poliovirus vaccine is coming. It takes time. The one thing I am sure of in this life is that the truth always wins out.”

Dr. Herald R. Cox on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

Dr. Cox did talk a lot about the oral polio vaccine. He talked about successful trials in Minneapolis, Nicaragua, Finland, West Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Costa Rica, etc.

When anti-vaccine folks cherry pick quotes from The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion panel, they seem to leave out all of the stuff about how well the oral polio vaccine works.

That’s how they work to scare parents and hope that their anti-vaccine myths and misinformation can win out over the truth that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

“Since nothing is available, there seems to be no alternative but to push the use of it. I don’t think we should do so in ignorance, nor too complacently, believing that as long as we have something partially effective there is no need to have something better.”

Dr. Bernard Greenberg on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

And of course, they did, fairly soon, switch to something better – the Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine.

Interestingly, using the idea that we changed the diagnostic criteria to make polio go away in an argument about vaccines is known as the Greenberg Gambit.

It tells you something about anti-vaccine arguments, that these folks are misinterpreting something someone said about vaccines almost 60 years ago.

In pushing the idea that polio hasn’t been eliminated, but rather just redefined, they also miss that:

But isn’t polio still around and just renamed as transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and aseptic meningitis?

Let’s do the math.

Using the adjusted numbers in the The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion, there were at about 6,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States in 1959.

While 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States develop Guillain-Barré syndrome each year, the risk increases with age, and it is rare in young kids. Remember, paralytic polio mostly affected younger children, typically those under age 5 years.

“Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years.”

Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet

Similarly, transverse myelitis is uncommon in younger children, and there are even fewer cases, about 1,400 a year.

What about aseptic meningitis? That doesn’t usually cause paralysis.

So do the math.

You aren’t going to find that many kids (remember, the incidence was 5-7 per 1,000) under age 5 years who really have “polio,” but instead, because of a worldwide conspiracy about vaccines, are getting diagnosed with transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), or aseptic meningitis instead.

Anyway, kids with acute flaccid paralysis are thoroughly tested to make sure they don’t have polio. And both transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome have different signs and symptoms from paralytic polio. Unlike polio, which as asymmetric muscle atrophy, the atrophy in transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome is symmetrical. Also, unlike those other conditions that cause AFP, with polio, nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyography testing will be abnormal. Plus, polio typically starts with a fever. The other conditions don’t.  So while these conditions might all be included in a differential diagnosis for someone with AFP, they are not usually that hard to distinguish.

“Each case of AFP should be followed by a diagnosis to find its cause. Within 14 days of the onset of AFP two stool samples should be collected 24 to 48 hours apart and need to be sent to a GPEI accredited laboratory to be tested for the poliovirus.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But why be so strict on following up on every case of AFP?

It’s very simple.

If you miss a case of polio, then it could lead to many more cases of polio. And that would tmake it very hard to eradicate polio in an area.

If anything, until the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, it is thought that cases of polio and paralytic polio were greatly underestimated in many parts of the world!

And now polio is almost eradicated.

“DR. SABIN: Let us agree, at least, that things are not being brushed aside. Let us say that we might disagree on the extent to which certain things have received study. But I hope that Dr. Bodian realizes that nobody is brushing things aside. I would not have taken the trouble of spending several months studying viremia with different strains in chimpanzees and human volunteers, and viremia produced by certain low temperature mutants to correlate it with their invasive capacity, if I were merely brushing it aside.”

Live Polio Vaccines – Papers Presented and Discussions Held at the First International Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccines

There is no conspiracy.

Think about it.

If they redefined how paralytic polio was diagnosed in 1955 as part of a conspiracy to make it look like the polio vaccines were working, then why did the number of cases continue to drop into the 1960s?

Shouldn’t they have just dropped in 1955 and then stayed at the same lower level?

After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States.
After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States, although there was an uptick in 1959, before we made the switch.

And why don’t any of the folks with other conditions that cause paralysis, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) ever have polio virus in their system when they are tested?

Also, if the renaming theory explains why the polio vaccine didn’t work, then why do anti-vaccine folks also need to push misinformation about DDT and polio?

What to Know About Polio Myths and Conspiracies

The near eradication of polio from the world is one of the big success stories of the modern era, just as those who push the idea that has all been faked is a snapshot of society at one of our low points.

More on Polio Myths and Conspiracies

Which Vaccines Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease?

As most folks know, Dr. Bob Sears has been put on probation by the California Medical Board.

Most vaccines don't prevent the spread of diseases?
Most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of disease???

Surprisingly, that hasn’t kept him from posting dangerous misinformation about vaccines, including his latest idea that “most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of a disease.”

Which Vaccines Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease?

If vaccines don’t prevent the spread of disease, then how did we eradicate, eliminate, and control so many diseases?

Dr. Bob Sears actually reassured parents that measles wasn't deadly in developed countries, neglecting to mention the dozens of people who have died in outbreaks in Europe - another well-nourished population with lower vaccination rates than the U.S.
At least seven people have died in Italy with measles over the last few years. That’s not so good for Italy.

When was the last time you saw someone with small pox, rubella, diphtheria, or polio, for example?

It is true that vaccines don’t prevent the spread of some infections though.

There is tetanus, for example, but guess what?

Tetanus isn’t contagious.

Any others?

Well, unlike most other vaccines, the meningococcal B vaccines are not thought to decrease nasal carriage of the meningococcal B bacteria. So if you are vaccinated and an asymptomatic carrier of the bacteria, you could theoretically spread it to someone else, as could someone who is unvaccinated.

Still, the MenB vaccines can protect you from getting actual meningococcal B disease, and if you don’t have meningococcemia or meningococcal meningitis, you won’t expose and spread it to someone else. That’s why the MenB vaccines are especially useful in outbreak situations.

Any others? After all, Dr. Bob did say that “most vaccines don’t prevent the spread of a disease.”

Vaccines That Don’t Prevent the Spread of a Disease

There are a few other examples of vaccines that don’t prevent the spread of a disease.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

Of course, any vaccine that is delayed or skipped won’t work to prevent the spread of a disease.

Just like they are seeing measles outbreaks and deaths now, because of low vaccination rates, in Ukraine there were 17,387 cases of diphtheria and 646 deaths from 1992 to 1997. Also high, were cases of measles (over 23,000 cases in 1993) and pertussis (almost 7,000 cases in 1993).

And because of waning immunity, vaccines don’t do as good a job of preventing the spread of pertussis and mumps as we would like. Still, that’s only when the vaccines don’t work, and even then, as Dr. Bob says, they do work to reduce the severity of symptoms.  During recent mumps outbreaks, the rates of complications are far below historical levels. The same is true for pertussis.

Have you ever seen or heard an unvaccinated child with pertussis? It is truly heartbreaking, especially when you realize how easily it could be prevented.

We typically see the same thing with flu. Even when the flu vaccine isn’t a good match or isn’t as effective as we would like, it still has a lot of benefits, including reducing your risk of dying.

“IPV induces very low levels of immunity in the intestine. As a result, when a person immunized with IPV is infected with wild poliovirus, the virus can still multiply inside the intestines and be shed in the faeces, risking continued circulation.”

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine

Does the fact that IPV, the inactivated polio vaccine, can sometimes lead to infections and shedding mean that it doesn’t prevent infections?

Of course not!

“IPV triggers an excellent protective immune response in most people.”

Inactivated poliovirus vaccine

Most people vaccinated with IPV will be immune, won’t get wild polio, and so won’t be able to get anyone else sick.

Vaccines reduce disease by direct protection of vaccinees and by indirect protection of nonimmune persons. Indirect protection depends on a reduction in infection transmission, and hence on protection (immunity) against infection, not just against disease. If a vaccine were to protect only against disease, and not at all against infection, then it would have no influence on infection transmission in the community and there would be no indirect protection (vaccination of one person would have no influence on any others in the community). It would be possible to reduce disease with such a vaccine but not to eradicate the infection.

Plotkin’s Vaccines

But because IPV doesn’t provide indirect protection, we still use OPV in parts of the world where polio is more of a problem.

Vaccines work. Even the few that don’t prevent the spread of infections, still help to reduce disease.

What’s the Difference Between Infections and Disease?

Wait, is there a difference between infection and disease?

Yes there is, something that Dr. Bob, who actually wrote a book about vaccines, seems to have overlooked.

An infection is simply the presence of a virus, bacteria, or other organism in your body.

A disease, on the other hand, is a virus or bacteria in your body causing signs and symptoms.

All vaccines work to prevent disease, or at least they do when you actually get vaccinated.

A very few don’t prevent infections and the spread of infections, but that is not a good reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines. In fact, it is one of the reasons why it is important to have high vaccination rates! Even natural infections don’t always keep you from becoming asymptomatic carriers that can infected others. Many people who have natural typhoid (remember Typhoid Mary?) and hepatitis B infections go on to become chronic carriers without any symptoms, but still able to infect others.

If you understand that a few vaccines don’t prevent the spread of infections, then you should understand that you can’t hide in the herd and expect to be protected, even though most folks around you are vaccinated.

What to Know About Vaccines and the Spread of Disease

Despite what Dr. Bob says, almost all vaccines work to prevent the spread of disease and infections, at least they do when you get your kids vaccinated.

More on Vaccines and the Spread of Disease

Is the Polio Vaccine Linked to Outbreaks of Hand Foot Mouth Disease?

Wait, why would anyone think that the polio vaccine could be linked to outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease?

“Scientific researchers have discovered that the infectious disease Hand,Foot and Mouth Disease is vaccine-induced and then spread to others through shedding from the Polio Vaccine. Enterovirus 71 (EV71) causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. The polio vaccine (OPV and IPV) is contaminated with EV71. It, along with EV-D68 and several other enteroviruses and coxsackie viruses are used in the manufacturing of the polio vaccines, which are given to children three times in the first year of life, and again between 4-6 years of life. Bottom line: children recently vaccinated with the polio vaccine are shedding the EV71 that causes the most serious complications of HFMD. ”

Health Freedom Idaho

Shedding

Is the Polio Vaccine Linked to Outbreaks of Hand Foot Mouth Disease?

Health Freedom Idaho makes some very serious claims and even links to a research article, which in most cases, you would expect to support their claims.

Not surprisingly, the article, A Dominant EV71-Specific CD4+ T Cell Epitope Is Highly Conserved among Human Enteroviruses, says absolutely nothing about contamination of vaccines and nothing about shedding.

“Recognizing disingenuous claims made by the anti-vaccination movement is essential in order to critically evaluate the information and misinformation encountered online.”

Anna Kata Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement

What about a link between polio vaccines and hand, foot, and mouth disease?

It is sad that anti-vaccine propaganda gets shared so quickly among parenting groups.
It is sad that anti-vaccine propaganda gets shared so quickly among some parenting groups, who’s members obviously don’t read the articles when they do their research.

Well, hand, foot, and mouth disease is typically caused by the coxsackievirus A16 and EV71, which are enteroviruses. So is the polio virus. In fact, the Enterovirus genus is made up of 15 different species and 100s of different viruses. And they are all in the same Picornavirus family.

And that’s likely why researchers have found that “the most dominant epitope is highly conserved among enterovirus species, including HFMD-related coxsackieviruses, HFMD-unrelated echoviruses and polioviruses.”

Epitope?

“An epitope refers to the specific target against which an individual antibody binds.”

What is an Epitope?

So basically, this research isn’t saying that the polio vaccines are contaminated or that they cause hand, foot, mouth disease.

What it is saying, is that if you have been vaccinated with the polio vaccine, then you might have some protection against other enteroviruses!

“As shown here, poliovirus vaccination may have an impact on subsequent severity of HFMD disease. Cross-reactivity between EV71 A3 epitope and the A3v epitope of poliovirus 3 Sabin strain, may lead to the stimulation of protective, cross-reactive T cell responses, limiting the severity of subsequent HFMD.”

Wei et al. on A Dominant EV71-Specific CD4+ T Cell Epitope Is Highly Conserved among Human Enteroviruses

Yay for cross-reactivity!

“Cross-reactivity between antigens occurs when an antibody directed against one specific antigen is successful in binding with another, different antigen. The two antigens in question have similar three-dimensional structural regions, known as epitopes, which allow the antibody for one antigen to recognize a second antigen as being structurally the same antigen.”

Stephen J. Chadwick, MD

So you get antibodies from the polio vaccine and these antibodies cross react with the viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, which could lead to milder symptoms, because it is like you already have some antibodies to that virus too!

“HFMD outbreaks could occur where polio vaccination has failed, due to lack of refrigeration or other breaks in the cold chain that (might) go unreported.”

Exploring the Link between Polio Vaccination and Hand Foot Mouth Disease

In China, where outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease are much more severe than they are in the United States, often leading to life-threatening disease, there has been a concern that the increased number of outbreaks could be linked to a failure of their polio vaccines, since getting vaccinated could be protective.

That’s the link the research is talking about…

I actually asked one of the researchers about what anti-vaccine folks were saying about their study and they told me:

“Well, that’s actually totally backwards. Our article suggests that FAILURE to get vaccinated with polio vaccine might set you up for Hand Food Mouth disease (EV71).”

Bottom line: polio vaccines are not contaminated and children recently vaccinated with the polio vaccine are not shedding the EV71 that causes the most serious complications of HFMD. Health Freedom Idaho made the whole thing up.

More on Linking the Polio Vaccine to Hand Foot Mouth Disease

Grave Reminders of Life Before Vaccines

Need a reminder of just how serious vaccine preventable diseases can be?

Don’t remember the pre-vaccine era?

That could be why some folks are so quick to think that skipping or delaying vaccines is a safe option for their kids.

Vaccines are necessary.

Without them, we will see even more outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis and kids will continue to die of rabies, tetanus, and other now vaccine-preventable diseases.

The South Park Cemetary was begun in 1891 during a diphtheria epidemic.
A diphtheria cemetery in Wyoming.

Isolation hospitals and pest houses were commonly used to quarantine folks with smallpox.
Isolation hospitals and pest houses were commonly used to quarantine folks with smallpox and other now vaccine-preventable diseases.

Even mild smallpox, as depicted on this WHO Smallpox Recognition Card, included flu like symptoms, a few weeks of pustules, and then waiting for the lesions to scab over...
Even mild smallpox, as depicted on this WHO Smallpox Recognition Card, included flu like symptoms, a few weeks of pustules, and then waiting for the lesions to scab over…

People continued to die of smallpox well into the 20th century, even though an effective vaccine was developed in 1796.
People continued to die of smallpox well into the 20th century, even though an effective vaccine was developed in 1796.

In the pre-vaccine era, we had outbreaks of polio, and other, now vaccine-preventable diseases.
Outbreaks of polio would once isolate entire towns, as parents feared their kids would get sick too.

Fight Polio Poster
When was the last time you saw a child with polio?

Before wide use of the Hib and Prevnar vaccines, infants with fever would routinely get spinal taps and you would hope for clear fluid (cloudy fluid could be a sign of a bacterial infection).
Before wide use of the Hib and Prevnar vaccines, younger infants with fever would routinely need spinal taps and you would hope for clear fluid (cloudy fluid could be a sign of a Hib or Strep pneumo infection).

In the pre-vaccine era, Hib caused epiglottitis, meningitis, and pneumonia - all life-threatening diseases that are now prevented by the Hib vaccine.
In the pre-vaccine era, Hib caused epiglottitis, meningitis, and pneumonia – all life-threatening diseases that are now prevented by the Hib vaccine.

Before the 1990s, when the Hib vaccine available, hospitals had an epiglottitis team on call and always available.
Before the 1990s, when the Hib vaccine available, hospitals had an epiglottitis team on call and always available.

News of the Newark kids going to Paris to get Pasteur's rabies vaccine made the front page of the New York Times.
In 1885, several boys from Newark went all of the way to Paris to get Pasteur’s new rabies vaccine, as the disease had always been fatal up until that time.

Even if they survive, kids can lose fingers, toes, or even arms and legs to meningococcemia.
Even if they survive, kids can lose fingers, toes, or even arms and legs to meningococcemia.

Roald Dahl's daughter died of measles in 1962, the year before the development of the first measles vaccine.
Roald Dahl’s daughter died of measles in 1962, the year before the development of the first measles vaccine.

Nationwide, at least 123 people died in the United States during a large measles epidemic from 1989 to 1991, during a time that we had good sanitation, nutrition, and medical care.
Nationwide, at least 123 people died in the United States during large measles epidemics from 1989 to 1991, a time when we had good sanitation, nutrition, and medical care, but some folks weren’t vaccinated and we weren’t yet giving a second dose of MMR.

A papilloma caused by HPV on the vocal cords of a child with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
A papilloma caused by HPV on the vocal cords of a child with recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. (CC BY 4.0)

You don't have to go back to the pre-vaccine era to know that pertussis kills.
You don’t have to go back to the pre-vaccine era to know that pertussis kills. Ten infants died in 2010 in California from pertussis infections.

We should never forget what life was like before vaccines.

We should know that vaccine-preventable diseases were rarely mild, natural immunity comes at a cost, and that those who died from smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and polio aren’t around to talk about their experiences on Facebook (survivorship bias).

We should never forget that vaccine-preventable diseases were once big killers, and the only reason some folks have grown to fear the side effects of vaccines more than the diseases they prevent, is because we don’t see those diseases very much any more. If more people skip or delay getting vaccinated, we will though.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Vaccines are safe and vaccines work.

Get vaccinated and protected.

Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases belong in the past.

What to Know About Life Before Vaccines

Forgetting the pre-vaccine era and the benefits of vaccines makes folks susceptible to anti-vaccine talking points and scares them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

More on Remembering Life Before Vaccines

Polio Survivor Stories

You probably don’t know anyone who ever had polio.

The Last Case of Polio

After all, the United States has been free of polio since 1979. At least that’s when we had the last endemic case or the last case that originated here.

The last case was in 1993. At least that’s when we had the last imported case of polio in the United States.

A 2005 outbreak of vaccine derived poliovirus in 2005 among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota didn’t cause any symptoms. They had probably been exposed to someone outside the United States that was still shedding after getting an oral polio vaccine, which hadn’t been used in the United States since 2000.

And then there were these following “last cases:”

  • The last case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States – 1999.
  • The last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States – 2005 – an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program.

And then there is the final last case of VAPP – 2009 – a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s, even though she didn’t develop paralysis until years later.

Polio Survivor Stories

Since vaccines work and the United States has essentially been polio free since 1979, it wouldn’t be surprising if you don’t know anyone who ever had polio.

Or do you?

“The doctors told my parents that little could be done for me, so my father prepared for my funeral. Fortunately, I recovered, except for the use of my right hand.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Vaccination’s Lifetime of Blessings

You might not have ever have even heard of anyone who had polio?

Or have you?

A few recent news stories highlight just how common polio used to be in the pre-vaccine era:

  • Mitch McConnell Wouldn’t Meet with the March of Dimes Even Though They Treated His Polio as a Child
  • Joni Mitchell – after the stuff about Morgellons, you can read about how she battled polio as a child

“When Joni turned 10 years old in late 1953, she woke up one morning paralyzed. It was quickly diagnosed and she was shipped to a polio colony in Saskatoon – similar to a leper colony designed to halt the spread of the disease.”

Do you know who else had polio?

Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, now works to end polio.
Itzhak Perlman, a polio survivor, now works to end polio.
  • Alan Alda
  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Francis Ford Coppola – “contracted polio and spent almost a year in bed, his legs paralyzed.”
  • Mia Farrow
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • Itzhak Perlman – has needed crutches to walk since he contracted polio at age 4 years
  • David Sanborn
  • Dinah Shore
  • Donald Sutherland
  • Desmond Tutu –
  • Neil Young

Of course, in addition to all of the polio survivor stories, there are stories that aren’t told of the people who didn’t survive polio.

Except when those stories are told too…

For anyone who wants to say that polio is mild or spread other myths about polio, please be sure to read these stories.

What to Know About Polio Survivor Stories

Reading polio stories, from survivors and of those who died, helps reinforce how important it is that we eradicate this vaccine-preventable disease as soon as possible.

More About Polio Survivor Stories

Updated November 24, 2017

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