USA TODAY International Edition

Vaccinatin­g children, from polio to COVID

Let’s be as brave as our kids have been

- Connie Schultz Columnist USA TODAY Please share your children’s vaccinatio­n stories – and photos – with Connie at Cschultz@ usatoday. com USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York

Seven decades ago, polio was the most feared disease because of its high infection rate among children.

Just in 1952, nearly 60,000 children were infected. Images of children in iron lungs keeping them alive terrorized parents, as did reports of the thousands who were paralyzed. More than 3,000 children died that year.

By early 1954, doctors were ready to begin a trial of Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine with more than 1.3 million children, called Polio Pioneers. My brother- in- law, Robert C. Brown, was one of them. That’s 6- year- old Bob in the photo, being vaccinated by his father, Dr. Charles Brown, in Mansfield, Ohio.

I only discovered the photo’s backstory Thursday, after I called Bob. The picture ran on the front page of the Mansfield News- Journal, above the fold, on April 27, 1954.

In his Pulitzer Prize- winning book, “Polio: An American Story,” historian David M. Oshinsky describes how gossip columnist Walter Winchell attempted to derail the vaccine trials. “In his dramatic staccato style,” Oshinsky writes, Winchell began his popular Sunday night broadcast with, “Attention everyone! In a few moments I will report on a new polio vaccine – it may be a killer!” After the commercial, he claimed that in lab experiment­s, the vaccine had “killed several monkeys.”

Medical experts rushed to undo Winchell’s damage – including Salk, whose three children had already been vaccinated. Winchell, Salk told reporters, was a “sidewalk superinten­dent.”

About 150,000 children were lost to the vaccine trials because of Winchell. But as we all know, the vaccine worked. Polio was eliminated by 1979.

I share this story because 28 million children in this country, ages 5 to 11, are now eligible for the COVID- 19 vaccine, and the modern- day Winchells among us will try to scare parents from protecting kids.

Fortunatel­y, we have science on our side, and millions of parents accustomed to prioritizi­ng their children’s well- being over their own fears. We must be louder in our advocacy.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, our children have shown a bravery beyond their years. In school districts that have prioritize­d health over politics, kids have been wearing masks. Many children have endured the intrusion of COVID test swabs and quarantine­s. They have missed friends and family and, for months on end,

witnessed their parents’ love manifest as anxiety and worry.

We have asked so much of these cherished children because we had to. Now, they are on the brink of the childhood they deserve.

A year after the polio vaccine trial began – on the morning of April 12, 1954 – Dave Garroway of NBC’s “Today” show read aloud the long- awaited official verdict: “The vaccine works. It is safe, effective, and potent.”

“The suspense was broken,” Oshinsky writes. “In department stores, courtrooms, and coffee shops, people wept openly with relief. To many, April 12 resembled another V- J Day – the end of a war.”

I saw a version of this joy on my Facebook page Thursday morning. All I had to do was ask parents how they were feeling about the COVIC- 19 vaccine for their young children. Nearly 400 responded in the first hour, sharing stories of relief and scheduled vaccinatio­ns, and helping other parents find vaccinatio­n sites for their children. The sense of community – and the rampant kindness among strangers – has too often been missing in this discussion.

Amy Saalfeld Delgado described her experience at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Wednesday, where she waited in line with her children for 90 minutes. After they were vaccinated, “the line was twice as long.”

I encourage health care profession­als with children ages 5 to 11 to publicize their children’s vaccinatio­ns. Likewise, I urge all of you parents with social media accounts to spread the word, too.

In that thread on my Facebook wall, Meghan Marie Torres said she was initially hesitant about the children’s vaccine until her 6- year- old said, “Mom, I am so excited for this. I can finally touch my friends again!”

Our children are willing to be brave, yet again. All we have to do is match their courage and walk them through that door.

 ?? ARCHIVES ?? Dr. Charles Brown, the columnist’s father- in- law, immunizes his son Bob against polio in 1954.
ARCHIVES Dr. Charles Brown, the columnist’s father- in- law, immunizes his son Bob against polio in 1954.
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