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I’m Getting the COVID Vaccine Because I Had Polio

There are now two vaccines under review by the FDA, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. Will people get the COVID vaccine? Many say no, but I'm on board!
I’m Getting the COVID Vaccine Because I Had Polio
Close up of doctor hand wearing blue disposable gloves and showing vaccine phial for coronavirus covid-19. Hand holding vial dose vaccine for sars-coV-2 vaccine, prevention and immunization concept.

I am a private person. I rarely write about my personal life in our syndicated newspaper column or on this website, but today I will tell you that I had polio when I was a child. As a result, I spent weeks immobilized and in traction in the polio ward at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I watched children all around me dying. This traumatic experience makes me disappointed with all the negative comments I have read about the COVID vaccine on our website and in the media.

Some individuals do not believe any of the vaccines will prevent people from catching the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Others are anti-vaccines in general. Many fear that the risks of a new technology (mRNA COVID vaccine) are just too great. And then there are people who just plain do not trust the pharmaceutical industry to do anything right.

We Are Skeptics Too!

Anyone who has read our work for the last 44 years knows that we have been tough on drug companies. We have also raised hard questions about the effectiveness of influenza vaccines at this link.  When we learned that lasting shoulder pain was a problem due to flu shots, we advised people about the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)  (800-822-7967) and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (800-338-2382).

We are neither vaccine enthusiasts nor vaccine cynics. We seek data and do our best to report research objectively. But because I have had polio, I can tell you that vaccines save lives and prevent untold misery. Most vaccine skeptics never had to live with polio. I will be taking the COVID vaccine.

The Polio Vaccine:

When Dr. Jonas Salk announced on April 12, 1955, that the polio vaccine was effective, parents rejoiced. That’s because the polio virus had been responsible for paralyzing or killing hundreds of thousands of children. Some people had to spend their lives in “iron lungs” because they could not breathe on their own. 

Dr. Salk’s heroic vaccine trial of 1954 included a million youngsters around the country. Prior to its development, parents would try to keep children inside and away from swimming pools during the summer for fear of the infection. Sometimes quarantines were imposed and travel between cities was restricted.

Within a few years after it became available, the polio vaccine had reduced infections to fewer than 6,000 annually. Life returned to normal and children were allowed to be children again.

The doctors told my mother that I would need braces for my legs and that I would never walk normally. She massaged my legs daily for hours. It took me a long time before I could walk again. The experience left lasting scars, but I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.

The Polio Vaccine vs. the COVID Vaccine:

Now, with the prospect of a COVID vaccine, the public reaction is very different. Instead of jubilation, there is suspicion.

A Gallup poll suggests that over 40 percent of Americans do not plan to get the coronavirus vaccine. Reasons for this reluctance range from politics to concerns about safety. The name Operation Warp Speed has some people worried that corners have been cut.

That has not been the case, according to Dr. Paul Offit. He is a leading vaccine expert and serves on the FDA’s advisory committee that will be deciding whether the data support Emergency Use Authorization. You can listen to our interview with Dr. Offit at this link. A panel of outside experts for the FDA will review Pfizer’s data on December 10, 2020. This advisory committee will consider Moderna’s documents on December 17, 2020.

When we interviewed Dr. Offit, he suggested that people are more cynical today than they were 70 years ago. But the FDA’s oversight is far stricter now than it was in the mid-20th century.

Preliminary reports suggest that both the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines could be very helpful. According to initial analyses, they are both around 94 percent effective. This is far better than experts had originally anticipated.

Digging Into the Data:

We do not have access to the information that is being submitted to the FDA. That will be enormous. We do want to see relevant details, though. Here is what has been released. 

Pfizer and BioNTech Stats:

This trial involved over 43,000 volunteers. To date, there have been 170 cases of COVID-19. The overwhelming majority (162) were reported in the group that received sham (placebo) injections.

There were 10 serious cases of COVID, but 9 of the 10 had received placebo. That suggests that the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID vaccine not only reduces the risk of catching the virus, it also reduces the severity of the infection.

Moderna Stats:

Moderna’s COVID vaccine was tested on roughly 30,000 people. Of that total, 196 caught SARS-CoV-2 as of this writing. 185 of the 196 were in the placebo group. The rest (11 people) were in the COVID vaccine group. You don’t have to be a statistician to see that there is a big difference. 

Of perhaps greater importance, there were 30 serious cases of COVID-19. All were in the placebo group, suggesting that the Moderna COVID vaccine reduces the risk of severe disease.

People are Dying!

Every day the numbers change. At the time of this writing, more than 13 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Over 266,000 have died. Worldwide, the number of cases is over 62 million and nearly 1.5 million have died. Let’s not forget that we are in a surge.  

Many visitors to this website say that the coronavirus is not that big a deal. They maintain that 99% of those infected get better with no complications.

The last time we checked, though, many hospitals are overwhelmed. Over 90,000 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. Healthcare workers are stretched to the breaking point. Coroners are running out of morgue space and refrigerated trucks are being recruited to store bodies.

Long-Covid:

Too many families are without loved ones because of this pandemic. And we now know that there can be long-lasting complications from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. So-called long-haulers report debilitating symptoms months after “recovery” from the virus. Many of these people are young and were healthy before catching COVID-19. You can listen to our podcast on this phenomenon at this link.

Show 1230: What Happens When COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away
Even young healthy people may have trouble when COVID symptoms don’t go away for weeks or months. Find out what it’s like at this link.

The COVID Vaccine vs. the Flu Shot:

It is useful to compare the pending COVID vaccine to the annual influenza vaccine. Over the last 15 years, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 10 percent up to 60 percent. Overall, its average effectiveness has been around 40 percent. It may be even less effective for older people, who often have a less robust immune response.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have been careful to include people of varying ages, genders and ethnic origins. At first glance, the vaccines appear to be protecting high-risk people such as the elderly as well as younger adults.

If the COVID vaccine is anywhere close to 90% effective, we should all celebrate. This degree of efficacy should save lives.

It remains to be seen whether such vaccines will change the trajectory of the pandemic. Getting them out to the people who need them will pose challenges.

The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be shipped and stored at extremely low temperatures. That said, the logistics experts have been planning for this for months. Some optimists believe the first vaccinations could occur before the end of December.

If enough people can be vaccinated, the coronavirus will gradually have nowhere to go and will eventually fade away. It may take six months to a year to see results, and during that time people will need to remain vigilant.

Polio wasn’t eradicated in the US until 1979, but the vaccine changed everything. We hope the COVID vaccine will do the same for our era. 

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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