Today we were able to schedule vaccinations for COVID-19. We happened to discover our local department of health’s vaccination site was scheduling appointments for our age group. The week after next, we will literally drive through the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, roll down our car windows, roll up our sleeves, get our shots, and drive to a waiting area to make sure we have no reactions.
It reminds me of a similar mass vaccination when I was a child. Polio left Franklin Roosevelt with paralyzed legs and infected many children and adults, sometimes requiring iron lungs to help them breathe, and often leaving them with one or more paralyzed limbs. We know some of these people. We feared summer when polio spread most rapidly and spoke of “polio season.” The first breakthrough came in 1955 when Jonas Salk from the nearby University of Pittsburgh introduced a “killed virus” vaccine. I received this as a shot as a young child. Then in 1961 Albert Sabin introduced an oral version of an attenuated virus vaccine that produced a stronger immune response but was safe. One of the striking things was that Sabin refused to patent the vaccine and did not make any money off it, living on his professor’s salary.
It was administered in three ways: via a dropper, mixed into a cup of distilled water, or put into a sugar cube. The Sabin vaccine was distributed in two drives in Youngstown, one on November 30 and December 1, 1961, and the other on February 15 and 17, 1962. In Youngstown, the vaccine drive was headed up by Dr. Kurt Wegner with the Mahoning County Medical Society. During each of these drives, upwards of 130,000 Mahoning County residents received the vaccine in a single dose diluted in a small cup of distilled water. There were sites at the courthouse, Manor Avenue School, Austintown Fitch, Boardman, Poland, Canfield, Struthers High Schools, Chaney, East, and North High Schools, Hillman, Kirkmere, Hayes, and others.
We went to Chaney High School, like those in the photograph above. I can’t remember whether it was in November or February. There were long lines but they moved fairly quickly. We got our little cup, drank it up, and walked out. That was it. And polio disappeared. Eventually, the Sabin vaccine disappeared (still in use in some countries) and the Salk version since 2000 is the only version given in the U.S. in four doses.
It is kind of amazing to me given our present situation that most of Mahoning County’s residents received the vaccine during two weekend drives, at a time when they weren’t in a health emergency. It’s a different time, and today’s vaccines have different and more stringent storage requirements.
I don’t want to debate vaccines here (please, please don’t). It’s a personal decision. Mine is to get the vaccine. I remember polio seasons and am glad many others don’t need to. I look forward to the day the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. And to that jab in my arm.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!