by Judith Shaw Beatty
In 1949, the year I was hit by the poliovirus, 42,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States and 2,720 people died, most of them children.
I was diagnosed with paralytic poliomyelitis, which is experienced in less than 1 percent of poliovirus infections. Not only did it immobilize me completely from the neck down, it also attacked my lungs. It was August, a popular month for polio, and I was six years old.
A few weeks before, my parents, younger sister and I had moved from the outskirts of New York City to Rowayton, Connecticut, which back then was a small town of 1,200 people. My father had gotten a job as associate editor at Collier’s Magazine and my mother was a homemaker, and our new two-story house with its big yard was in sharp contrast to the tiny apartment we had come from.
The poliovirus attacks very quickly.
I was playing with other children at a lawn party and developed such a terrible headache we had to go home. When I woke up the next morning, my legs were so weak I couldn’t stand on them and I could barely lift my arms. It took all day for the doctor to visit the house and examine me, and that night I was taken to the Englewood Hospital in Bridgeport and put in an iron lung.
My mother told me years later that the prognosis was very poor and I was expected to die within hours.
One of the children I was playing with at the party was John Leavitt, who many years later went to work in the field of biotechnology at the Bureau of Biologics of the FDA. Part of his work involved growing live poliovirus, and it was necessary to be tested for polio antibody titre. All those years later, he learned that he must have had the natural polio infection based on the results.
Now, looking back, we realize that while I went home and ended up in an iron lung, John ended up with a flu-like disease with no paralysis. To this day, no one knows why the vast majority of people attacked by the virus recovered with no residual effect and so many others went on to spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs.
After I was taken to the hospital, the health department put a yellow quarantine sign on the front of our house and at the end of our driveway.
My mother said that when she and Dad would go to the beach in town, people would grab their blankets and umbrellas and move. At the grocery store, my mother said she could hear people whispering and staring. No one wanted to be near my family. Everybody knew of somebody who had died from polio or was crippled by it, and 1949 turned out to be a record year. At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, polio would paralyze or kill 500,000 people worldwide every year. And there was no vaccine for it, so there was no defense against this invisible, raging monster that struck indiscriminately.
I have no memory of being in the iron lung.
As we observe the seventh annual World Pneumonia Day, individuals and organizations from around the world are coming together once again to raise awareness about pneumonia and make sure that every breath counts.
Pneumonia is a Leading Killer
Each year there are approximately 900,000 deaths in children under the age of five from pneumonia across the globe.
While 51% of these deaths occur in only 6 countries, pneumonia isn’t just a threat to children in third world countries. The CDC reported that pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of hospitalizations and deaths in U.S. adults, costing more than $10 billion in 2011 alone.
Many factors contribute to pneumonia, and so there are many ways we can work to help prevent, treat and control this disease. Consider the following five simple but effective interventions.
Vaccines are Key to the Fight Against Pneumonia
Vaccines against whooping cough (pertussis), measles, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and pneumococcus can all help reduce the incidence of pneumonia. However, for many of the world’s population, the issue is one of access.
As Dr. Orin Levine, Director of Vaccine Delivery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explains in his Huffington Post article,
“Thankfully, 132 countries have introduced a vaccine to protect against pneumonia. In fact, it was within months of the first World Pneumonia Day that the very first developing country—Rwanda—rolled out the pneumococcal vaccine with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, the world’s 73 poorest countries have all introduced the pentavalent vaccine—which protects against Hib, another major cause of pneumonia—again with Gavi support.”
While this is amazing progress, Dr. Levine goes on to explain that an estimated 51% of the world’s infants live in countries that do not offer access to pneumococcal vaccines. Of course, getting vaccines to these children must be a top priority. Read more…
National Immunization Awareness Month
WEEK 2: Pregnancy and Vaccines
As a PhD student, we don’t ‘settle down’ all that early. The continuing education or the ‘grind of grad school’ requires that you plan out as much of your personal life as you possibly can. This means planning where you are going to live, who is coming with you, and when and where you are going to have kids.
As a student in the field of public health, we do more than just think about the timing of our pregnancy, we think about our health, our future lifestyle choices and the vaccines you should get during pregnancy that will protect you and your child over the entire developmental lifecycle, from pre-pregnancy to infancy.
I’m not saying my other non-academic public health friends don’t discuss these topics, it is just we discuss this topic in great detail.
For instance, emerging research is showing that the preconception period and the prenatal environment (life in the uterus) have profound effects on fetal development. Therefore planning a pregnancy doesn’t just encompass making sure you get the correct vaccines during your pregnancy, but making sure you keep up to date with you immunizations long before you decide to even have a child.
I have a young friend who had her first child two months ago. We had been trying to get together for lunch the week she delivered her baby. Yesterday, as we were texting one another, trying to reschedule, she explained that she was at the doctor with the baby for her well-check and a round of shots.
I didn’t even have to hear her voice to know the angst she might be feeling. Yes. Even parents who know the benefit of vaccines are not too keen on watching a needle go into their newborn baby. And what’s worse is hearing them cry.
So I quickly sent her some words of encouragement, and I acknowledged that she should be very proud of what she was doing to protect her baby. The more I thought about it, the more I thought …. parents don’t get applauded for their vaccination decisions often enough.
Hearing, Seeing and Believing
No matter how convinced a parent is about the importance of immunizations, they are probably somewhat familiar with the arguments of the vaccine critics. Whether it comes in the form of a news story they read, a parent in their local play group, or even a complete stranger on the internet, they will inevitably hear someone attributing various chronic health problems to vaccines. Or someone who shares a story of an alleged vaccine injury. Or someone who simply believes it’s better to allow our immune system to fight off diseases “naturally”.
It’s only human nature that these stories come rushing to the forefront at the exact moment the nurse is prepping the needle. As they hear the cries from their once happy child, it’s understandable that parents experience a bit of uncertainty and doubt. And let’s be honest. For a first time parent, dealing with their first round of shots, this is all quite nerve-raking. Read more…
Surrounding Yourself with Good People Can Bring You Joy Every Day
In a grown up world you have good days and bad days at work. While my work day yesterday with an unpleasant online encounter, I consider myself to be one of those truly fortunate individuals whose good days outweigh the bad by an incredibly large margin. Each morning I look forward to tackling the tasks ahead of me as the Director of Every Child By Two (ECBT), knowing that today could be the day we save a life. While we work on many different initiatives, our priorities are steadfast and my terrific staff members share in my commitment to our goals. Our organization has the very specific focus of ensuring that every child completes their primary series of vaccines by age two. As our readers know, ECBT recently became a partner of the Shot@Life campaign to expand this assurance to children throughout the globe; children who deserve the same chance at reaching precious milestones as children in the U.S.
The Shot@Life campaign, although new in its efforts, has already made an impact on the way that I view the world and it has jump started my community service efforts. It has made me appreciate all the little things we are able to provide to our two children this summer, like sandcastles and sailing, fishing and snorkeling, and best of all, time with family and friends.
When I was a little girl, I remember laying on the front yard for what seemed like hours, watching the fireflies and stars in the great big sky. Each of us cherishes the memories of our childhood, and as parents we strive to create those wonderful memories for our own children. We also want to raise them to be good friends and caring citizens of the future. That is why I was so excited to learn that the Rotary Foundation, which I only recently joined, had also committed to partnering with the Shot@Life campaign. It seemed like the best of both worlds had entered my small town. Now I could pinpoint a community service project through my local Rotary club that I could involve my own kids in. A project that has the specific and attainable goal of bringing life-saving vaccines to children around the world.
This weekend my son, niece and I joined my fellow Mystic, Connecticut Rotarians at the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival serving Dells Frozen Lemonade to raise funds for our club’s initiatives.
Over the course of the day it surprised me how few people knew what the Rotary was about and how they contribute to our local community and the world. During my travels to Africa, Rotary seemed as popular as Coca Cola; everyone was so grateful for the polio eradication efforts organized by Rotary.
The main objective of Rotary is service — in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world. Rotarians develop community service projects that address many of today’s most critical issues, such as children at risk; poverty and hunger; the environment; illiteracy; and violence.
They also support educational opportunities and international exchanges for students, teachers and other professionals along with vocational and career development programs.
The Rotary motto is “Service Above Self”. Although Rotary clubs develop autonomous service programs, all Rotarians worldwide are united in a campaign for the global eradication of polio. Rotary has provided an army of volunteers to promote and assist at national immunization days in polio-endemic countries around the world and has provided over $500 million towards this goal.
That’s why, last spring when I was inducted into the Rotary, it literally brought tears to my eyes knowing that in some small way I might help close the door on polio. And that’s what it’s all about – making a difference, whether small or large. Doing something, even if it’s just selling lemonade alongside my family at an art festival in a small New England town, is better than doing nothing at all.
At the end of the long hot afternoon (which included far too many sour lemonades to ward off the heat), my son, niece and I handed over an enormous pile of cash and it made all of us feel great because we knew that it could mean the difference between a child living or dying on the other side of the globe.
Around the world there are over 1.2 million men and women serving in Rotary. Student volunteers also do much to support local Rotary efforts. Find out how you can join your local club where you will share in fellowship with wonderful neighbors while serving your community. Two things I’ve learned since joining Rotary – there is always a project on the horizon and Rotarians are welcome at a meeting anywhere in the world – what a lovely thought.
Volunteers from Stonington High School’s Interact Club Serve Up The Cheer
(Heather Jackson, Rachyl Jackson, and Libby Hall)
I just read several articles, including Elizabeth Weise’s article in the USA TODAY that announced “Malaria vaccine may have potential to save millions.”
The article goes on to explain, “Malaria is one of the most devastating diseases on the planet. Half the world’s population is at risk of malaria. There are about 225 million cases yearly and more than 780,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, one in five children die from malaria, one every 30 seconds, WHO says.”
Now imagine that after years of disease and focus on the possibility of a vaccine, that there is some promise in sight.
Well that is exactly what we are hearing about today. Read more…
By Christine Vara
Last week I read several articles that addressed children’s health from different and interesting perspectives.
The concerns raised by the first article are particularly troubling. Parents, failing to seek medical attention for their two year old son, were convicted of involuntary man slaughter when the child died from bacterial pneumonia. According to various reports, it was their belief – and that of their church- that seeking medical care was a sin and a lack of faith in God. Rather than be shunned for seeing a doctor, the couple prayed over their son, later telling homicide detectives “We tried to fight the devil, but in the end, the devil won.”
Though the couple was spared from going to prison during the recent sentencing, they did receive 10 years of probation. Additionally, despite their religious beliefs, the court is requiring that they bring their seven surviving children to see a “qualified medical practitioner” for regular medical exams until they turn 18.
Though this case doesn’t specifically address vaccinations, the court ruling is notable. Even the couple’s attorney declared that the sentencing sent a clear message that “religious freedom is trumped by the safety of children”. However, some have suggested that the sentencing doesn’t do enough in that it never addresses the requirement for following a physician’s recommendations, nor does it require that the children be vaccinated.
This was an interesting case when compared to a custody hearing in Florida. While the parents of this particular child were never married, their differing religious beliefs resulted in a disagreement over the child’s health care. Read more…