“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Having recently discovered we were expecting our first child, and having miscarried the first time we made that discovery, it was with great passion we signed up to walk with a team to raise money for the March of Dimes.
It was a beautiful day spent walking with friends and strangers in support of a great charity. I was young and didn’t have much awareness of what kinds of problems could exist when a baby was born. Several months later, I discovered that while our baby had a little hiccup, it was nothing compared to what others in the NICU were experiencing.
Thirty years ago, I took that baby in for his vaccinations and believed we could see beyond the horizon, and we, as so many parents, held, as FDR had remarked, to the hope, the belief, and the conviction that there would be a better life.
When I recently learned that my husband and I would qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I found myself remarking how amazing it was that we already had a vaccine for this virus. One year after I last went to a restaurant to enjoy a meal, I would be getting a shot that would mean my chances of getting sick or spreading COVID-19 would be greatly reduced.
The day arrived for my appointment, and as I stepped into the room with the nurse practitioner who would inoculate me, we chatted for a minute about the miracle of a vaccine and how it would allow so much freedom in life. As he stuck the needle into my arm, I realized the truth — I was receiving a gift that would work its way through my body to provide something like a coat of armor around me.
Tears began to well up in my eyes, as I began to fully embrace what this shot would mean for me, for so many. Granted, it’s not a 100% sure thing, but it’s pretty darn close, and it means that I won’t be adding to the problem. Each day since, I have thought about how the medicine has been moving through my body and will eventually offer me all the protection it can.
“Grateful.” It’s a word FDR might have considered, as he was able to serve four terms as President of the United States despite being paralyzed from the waist down due to polio. He contracted polio when he was 39, in 1921.
“Polio is a virus.” You might not know anyone who was stricken with it. I do happen to have two friends who bear its cruel bite. Thanks to the efforts of Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, a vaccine was developed that wiped out most cases of polio. If you know someone who was alive in 1952, they can speak of the fear that drove children from pools for fear of catching this very infectious virus.
1916 was a bad year for polio, but 1952 saw nearly 58,000 cases in the United States and more than 3,000 deaths. In 1955, Salk developed the vaccine that would change life in America. Were you alive back then? Do you remember the fear of paralysis, the iron lung, or death and the jubilation of a way out?
My brother was one of the last groups to receive the oral vaccine — drops and a sugar cube, while I received a true shot with a needle. A girl rarely forgets when someone else was given the sweet treat.
On the day I am writing, the United States has had 29.5 million total cases of the coronavirus. Today, more than 57,000 people tested positive. As of today, “535,997 people have died” in the United States with COVID-19. We have had more people die in the first year than fell ill with polio in 1952.
With the opportunities for scientists to work on vaccines today and funding for research from generous people, we have a vaccine (at least three vaccines). What a gift to each of us who we will have the opportunity to receive a vaccine that will safeguard our communities from hiding or just hoping for the best.
In digging through the research, I am flummoxed (one of my favorite words) at the negative feelings regarding vaccinations by many people. Maybe they are the people who haven’t lived through some of the diseases we no longer worry about (due to vaccines):
Smallpox — eradicated in 1972 in the United States. Less than 10 years later, it became the first disease (and the only one at this point) to be removed around the world.
Polio — vaccine released in 1955, while it was not until 1979 that the disease was considered eliminated (in the United States).
Diphtheria — vaccine released in the 1920s. We have had less than five cases in the past 10 years.
Mumps — vaccine available in 1967. Only a few hundred people in the United States contract it each year.
Measles — is making a comeback in the United States. As more people demand their children not be vaccinated, the cases are climbing. Why? At least in part, it is because someone comes into contact with people in other countries who are not vaccinated and have the disease. A person can catch the measles simply by being in a room that was occupied by a sick person up to two hours previously.
Rubella — a vaccine became available in the 1960s. In 2015, it was considered to be eliminated from the United States.
Tetanus, Flu, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Hib, Whooping Cough, Pneumococcal Disease, Rotavirus and Chickenpox — the other diseases whose effects have been greatly limited by vaccines. We are the lucky ones living today, with so many opportunities to protect ourselves and other people through the hard work of devoted scientists.
I am a fan of FDR, both for the good things he brought the common person by being president and the wonderful gift of the March of Dimes. Yes, it was at least in part because of his founding the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, renamed March of Dimes, that money was raised to help the victims and families of polio and to fund research to put an end to the disease.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to learn that it is Roosevelt’s head on the dime in your jar of change. Why? It seems most folks could spare a dime, and that’s what was requested at a fundraiser.
The first year (1937 or 1938) of the $268,000 received, there were 2.5 million dimes.
No matter what the disease, it is remarkable to me to know that traveling through my body at any time in my life have been vaccines that have protected me and those around me. Thank you to the researchers who so seldom receive recognition but who must watch so proudly as their discoveries change lives.
I continue to look beyond the horizon.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.