George Pyle: Now we just need a vaccine against stupidity

My parents could be accused of being a bit sloppy about such issues as how much TV we all watched and whether all the books we read or the movies we saw were entirely age-appropriate.

But there was one mistake they never made. None of the four of us every missed any of our vaccinations.

Why? Well, I’ll let my father tell you, from the memoirs he left us.

“When I was three years old (in 1930) I contracted polio; I have been told that for a week or so they didn’t know what my problem was and when they figured it out they put me in a body cast and immobilized me with sandbags for six weeks. I think that probably accounts for my intolerance of sandbags. ...

“My test came when I was ten years old. When I walked my hip bone came out of the socket; the doctor decided to fix it. They ‘stabilized’ my hip. They put me in a body cast from the chest to the bottom of my right leg and to just above the knee on the left. ... I was in the cast for six months, flat on my back and learning how to tolerate the intolerable — you do that by reading, listening and watching and by ‘going inside’ to your own ‘place’ that no one can reach. Then they took the cast off — I can still remember how light and high and clean I felt. It was decided that the operation had not accomplished its purpose and that it should be done again. I protested, I cussed and screamed and tried to crawl out of the hospital; they picked me up, put me on the floppy wheeled cart, tied me down, put ether in my nose and did it again.”

One of my father’s aunts, a very religious woman, took her turn sitting with him while he was so mummified, and she prayed over him. A lot. The fact that he didn’t really get better established to my father that the Lord was not interested in interceding on his behalf. The fact that he did not die proved to his aunt that the Lord was.

The Lord may or may not have been interested. But Dr. Salk and Dr. Sabin were. So one of my earliest memories is lining up in the gym of the Municipal Auditorium with what seemed like — and probably really was — the entire community of McCook, Neb., some time in the early 1960s, when the Red Cross or somebody was handing out those sugar cubes dosed with polio vaccine.

Outbreaks of the disease in the 1950s were fresh enough that most families were sure to get their children vaccinated, even if they didn’t have the lasting personal experience that motivated mine.

Any anti-vaxxers trying to make themselves known at that time would probably have been run out of town.

Measles ain’t polio. But the fact that a sometimes deadly childhood disease that was officially eradicated in the U.S. 19 years ago is making a terrifying comeback is an example of how complacent — how ignorant — we have become about such things. And, if measles are back, there is every reason to fear that polio will follow in its wake.

Vaccinating people against what had been common and uncontrollable epidemics is, so far, the crowning achievement of humanity. Until, at least, they invent a vaccine against stupid.

In the meantime, states need to crack down on all forms of ignorance and unwarranted fear about vaccinations. All exemptions must be swept aside. Even religious exemptions. We don’t grant people an out from the laws against human sacrifice, chattel slavery or selling our daughters just because some folks think God likes those things. The threat posed to every community by unvaccinated children is on that level and should be treated as such.

My father isn’t still around to smack you with his crutches. So you are just going to have to take my word for it.