TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — What If Polio Had Become Politicized?

Those of us of a certain vintage grew up without fear of polio because Jonas Salk’s vaccine against that awful virus went into distribution in 1955, quickly eradicating the disease in America. But many of us grew up seeing and knowing polio victims, many of them irreparably crippled, some unable to walk, others with atrophied limbs.

There was no great political divide, no protests about the loss of freedom that inexplicably might be tied to a very real public health hazard. Parents eagerly lined up their children for the vaccine and for a long list of others that followed that eliminated a myriad of diseases because people acted in both their best self-interest and in the public interest.

Any veterinarian will tell you that herd immunity is a very good thing. Experts say that to get America back in business, we need 70 percent to 85 percent immunity from COVID 19, either through vaccinations or the hard way — risking serious illness, long-term complications and even death. At last count, nearly one-third of Americans were infected and 576,000 had died. We all know someone who’s suffered. Globally, 3.2 million have died and in India, funeral pyres light the night skies like forest fires.

Thanks to heroic efforts from the medical community that created a vaccine with a monumental effort that had a lot to do with prior research and a remarkable distribution effort by the current administration, about one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated. In North Dakota, that percentage is about 42 percent but we’re showing signs of stalling out.

COVID hospitalizations were up nearly 60 percent in April for North Dakotans between the ages of 16 to 49 even as Gov. Doug Burgum, under pressure from political forces on the right, lifted the state’s emergency declaration. Then, the Legislature insisted that the governor’s office surrender the power to issue mask mandates. That’s just dumb. No matter what Facebook epidemiologists try to tell you, masks make a difference. That’s why doctors wear them. When you go to your local clinic, you still must wear a mask. Shouldn’t that tell you that this is still serious business? When the state issues a mask mandate, it gives local governments and businesses cover, plus a patchwork effort will always be limited.

On one side of the issue, you’ve got science working in the interest of public health. Let me repeat the words “public health.” A refusal to cooperate simply delays our national recovery. The ironic thing is, the majority of anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers are the most outspoken about shutdowns and lumber yard mask rules. They simply don’t connect the dots because they were sold a bill of goods from the previous president, who, rather than accept responsibility for the public health, chose to pretend nothing was happening, that it was a plot to make him look bad. His frail ego turned it into a political issue. It cost lives. What if polio had become a political issue?

Frankly, too many people are ill-informed, and the blame falls squarely on certain politicians and media outlets as well as news consumers themselves. At the coffee shop, someone will mention side effects from the vaccination, so everyone at the table decides a sore arm or having the chills for a couple of hours just isn’t worth it, not understanding that the reaction is an indication that your immune system is doing exactly what it should to protect you from full-blown COVID.

As for the politicians and their media sycophants, all they would have to do is show leadership on this issue. Give people the facts. Let them know that the one-in-a-million chance of blood clots from one vaccine pales in comparison to the risks of the coronavirus. Post that vaccination selfie. Ivanka Trump did.

We all want to get our personal lives and American businesses and institutions back to normal. Together, we’ve sacrificed a great deal. Together. Remember that. The more cooperation we get from each other, the sooner we can move on. You want more personal freedom? Get the vaccination. Follow the mask rules. It’s for your own good. Ask anyone who has been at death’s door. Ask my friend Rob Port. Ask Ted Nugent.

You don’t want this virus. And if you don’t want to think about yourself and the loved ones you might leave behind, think about your responsibility to the rest of us. Or has responsibility become just another empty word reserved for political conventions and campaigns?

© Tony Bender, 2021

More than three years of Tony Bender columns are available with a subscription at www.mcintosh-star-tribune.com

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