This is my Polio Vaccine Card given to me upon my first dose of the vaccine in 1964 when I was a child. I received this at a drug store parking lot a few miles from my home where the vaccine was handed out from a small table by health professionals. I went with my parents. We lined up with other members of our community to participate in what felt like an act of significant civic duty and importance. The only other time I had seen so many lined up to take part in a civic responsibility was during elections which were held indoors and then it was an event for adults. But this was different. Here we all were, adults and kids, lined up in a parking lot. Each of us was given a sugar cube with the vaccine. I don’t remember fearing Polio or even being aware of the disease. But, I do remember feeling proud that I was participating in this event. My father was a physician and my parents likely explained the importance of the vaccine or perhaps seeing people lining up for the vaccine in a way I had never before witnessed impressed upon me the magnitude of the event. I must have been impressed to the degree that I stashed this Polio Vaccine Card away to be found all these years later.
Polio was a terrifying scourge to which children were especially vulnerable. Children would be perfectly healthy one day and dead or paralyzed within a week. There were adults I knew who walked with the aid of braces on their legs, or the use of crutches due to a Polio infection. They were the lucky ones who caught Polio and survived. Many did not. That was then. The vaccine each of us took in the 1960s in a collective effort to free the world of Polio, eliminated Polio in the U.S.A and we only scarcely know it now as history.
And now in December 2020, a few days after the first injections of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, I am reminded of how important my Polio vaccine 56 years ago really was. We will soon be seeing mass inoculation against COVID-19, which has already killed nearly 320,000 people in the U.S.A. alone. People will be lining up in hopes of staying safe, in hopes of keeping their loved ones, their neighbors and health care worker safe. And, they will likely be creating memories of their own of participating in eliminating COVID-19. These memories will mark the small efforts of each of us, as we roll up our sleeve in an event of singular civic significance, to change the world.