Years ago, we knew a business owner in a distant city who lost the use of his legs as a child.

“Anybody who doesn’t believe in vaccines should come spend an afternoon with me,” he told us, seated in his wheelchair. “I can show them what happens without vaccines.”

A vaccine came too late for the man. In the late 1940s, he caught poliovirus long before Jonas Salk’s vaccine came into use. He longed to have been born in a time when a simple shot in the arm could have saved his legs.

But that wasn’t to be. Today our country is free of polio, and we can put an end to coronavirus, but only through vaccination.

There are a surprising number of similarities between the viruses though genetically they are vastly different. Like with the coronavirus, people could have a polio infection without any symptoms whatsoever. In fact, about 72% of those infected with poliovirus never got sick.

That virus also caused flu-like symptoms and in extreme cases shortness of breath — and even death — as it weakened the muscles that control breathing.

But thanks to a widespread vaccination effort that took 24 years and millions of shots, polio is gone from the United States.

Good news in the fight to put the coronavirus in polio’s place came this week when U.S. regulators announced expanding the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12. Moderna is also studying the effects of its vaccine on younger children and approval could come this fall for use in kids as young as 6 months.

Unlike the poliovirus, we aren’t exactly sure what the longterm effects of the coronavirus might be on children. Polio plagued humanity for thousands of years and is even depicted in ancient Egyptian art. We knew its dangers on children when Salk developed the vaccine in the 1950s.

COVID-19 is new on the scene, and it might take years for us to fully understand its impact, especially on children.

Here’s what we do know. Children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, yet they represent nearly 14% of the nation’s coronavirus cases. At least 296 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, and more than 15,000 have been hospitalized, according to a tally by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That doesn’t include all family members infected by children who became become ill or die, let alone the disruption to school activities, sports, camps and youth programs.

“Our youngest generations have shouldered heavy burdens over the past year, and the vaccine is a hopeful sign that they will be able to begin to experience all the activities that are so important for their health and development,” said American Association of Pediatricians president Dr. Lee Savio Beers in a statement.

Beers is right. The youngest among us have shouldered an incredible burden, but now we can offer them hope.

Experts say children must get the shots if the country is to vaccinate the 70% to 85% of the population necessary to reach what’s called herd immunity.

Parents, please vaccinate your children against COVID-19. They will need your permission to get the shot. Don’t buy into the endless sea of online conspiracy theories. Studies have shown that the shots are safe. There is (and we feel awful that we have to say this) no government ploy to control or track your life. There’s no microchip, no globalist agenda. None of that.

The business owner we mentioned before died a few years ago, in part due to complications from living the majority of his life with post-polio syndrome. But if he were here today, he would beg you to take care your children’s health.

As soon as the vaccination is available here in Nacogdoches County, sign them up. Who knows whose life you might help save.

(1) comment

Karen Allen

Thank you for writing and publishing this. It is supremely ironic that the very people who are refusing or hesitating about the COVID-19 vaccination may be alive only because of childhood vaccines that they received. I have spent my career trying to get vaccines to people in less developed countries who desperately want them. I have seen both vaccinators and mothers walk for many miles, wading through rushing water, climbing mountains, in brutal sun, through rain, through snow just to get themselves and their children vaccinated. I have talked with anguished people who realized too late (child dead or disabled for life; parent dead of pneumonia, hepatitis, tetanus) that they should not have said "no" to vaccinations. This is another very sad irony - even as thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 in Southeast Asia because they could not get the vaccine when they wanted it, people here in the land of abundant vaccines are refusing it. I fully respect the anxiety and fears; I fully respect the attitude of "we can take care of ourselves and government will not tell us what to do." However, as my mother frequently told me when I was being proud in the wrong ways, "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face."

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