(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News).
By Frank DeFilippo
Many Americans of a certain age probably remember those terrifying health department signs displayed in windows or tacked to houses warning people outside that “This House is Under Quarantine” because someone inside had – and here’s the frightening part — highly contagious measles, mumps , chicken pox, rubella, scarlet fever, or, scariest of all, whooping cough.
Those with polio or meningitis were not under enforced quarantine at home but likely in an iron lung in a glass-enclosed isolation booth at a hospital being cared for and monitored around the clock by specialized nurses and doctors for signs of improvement or deterioration or, worst case, paralysis.
It has long been assumed that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio while attending a Boy Scout rally along New York’s Hudson River and on his way to a family vacation at Campobello, an island off the coast of Canada, where he finally exhibited the disease’s dreaded symptoms.
An estimated 10% of people with polio during the serious outbreak in the 1940s and ’50s died from the disease while many survivors were left paralyzed or with post-polio symptoms such as muscle weakness.
The respiratory disease whooping cough, or pertussis, caused thousands of deaths in the 1930s and ’40s. Rubella, also known as German measles, was especially dangerous to the unborn babies of pregnant women, while measles, mumps and scarlet fever could have lasting harmful effects from childhood into adulthood if not properly cared for.
Along that same timeline, and well into the 1970s, tuberculosis was especially rampant in Baltimore. Among the therapies was not a pill or a jab but removal of a lung.
There were few vaccines. Masks were worn by surgeons and not by citizens going about their everyday business.
Official quarantines in America date back to 1892 during cholera outbreaks on arriving ships carrying immigrants. Congress decided that the federal government was better suited than the states to authorize and monitor national lock-downs.
The one commonplace vaccine required of every school kid of the era was the antidote to small pox. It was administered by a series of pricks in the skin, usually the left arm, and often caused a large scabrous welt and an unattractive scar that on many recipients lasted a lifetime.
Necessity being the mother of invention, World War II forced a rush to cure the unthinkable, and thus, penicillin was born. By the outbreak of the war in Korea, circa 1950, vaccinations were in full anodyne mode.
Inductees into the U.S. Navy, for example, assembled in massive boot camp drill halls, both bare arms extended for waiting medics who jabbed three needles of unnamed fluids into each arm. The recruits were given the rest of the day to sleep off any after effects.
On another occasion, there was an order to report to sick bay for a “shot” of an experimental drug with instructions to relay any reactions. The drug was gamma globulin. (It’s a safe guess that the military couldn’t get away with such brusque treatment in today’s armed services.)
Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine came along in 1955 and was followed in the U.S. six years later by Albert Sabin’s oral polio vaccine, which was administered by the spoonful or a cube of sugar dosed with the liquid, eliminating the use of a needle. It was administered on “Sabin Sundays” – three successive Sundays when millions of families lined up at churches and schools to receive the pink protective drug.
Today, most conscientious citizens, or otherwise motivated self-preservationists, rush every Autumn for the ubiquitous flu shot and are now even clamoring for a third dose of a COVID vaccine. Many, not to say most, adults scramble for a shingles shot to avoid that painful affliction, its vulnerability usually presaged by childhood chickenpox. Many are boosted periodically for tetanus.
And anyone, and everyone — and that means nearly everybody alive except, perhaps, strict religionists — who ever went to school has been vaccinated without a peep of protest. Babies are inoculated against a multiplicity of diseases and germs practically as they arrive from the womb and boosted as they develop.
Even so, there have been recent outbreaks of terrible diseases on the epidemic scale that never reached pandemic proportions — HIV/AIDS, SARS, swine flu, anthrax, Ebola, the annual siege of flu of different mutations and rage, and even the widespread reprise of the mumps in 2006 — treatable and treated with rapidly developed and broadly accepted vaccines. Say it again: Mass participation in vaccinations is the antidote to communicable disease.
Strangely, though, malaria is usually a mosquito-borne parasitic killer that claims about 400,000 lives each year, according to the Mayo Clinic, but vaccines are still experimental and not yet available.
Quinine-based pills — yes, the class of drugs that includes Hydroxychloroquine which Donald Trump touted as a cure for tvhe coronavirus but medical authorities warned against — are usually recommended for short-term prevention during travel or possible palliatives for mild cases. And yes, full-body masks in the form of netting will help prevent infectious bites.
So just what, it is fair to ask, is all the fuss about vaccinations and masks? And why is vaxxing so vexing?
Well, for one thing, there’s lots of caterwauling and misinformation about the abstraction called “freedom” from people who probably couldn’t define the word if it jumped up and kicked them in the butt. To wit: There are only two kinds of people in this world — those who watch Fox News and those who know better
Second, there seems to be a contest about who’s the bigger boob, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, or Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, both Republicans who represent the debased state of politics in America as much as the states they govern. For that matter, pick almost any Republican official and they fit the mold. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas? U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.? Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Ga.? Gov. Brad Little, R-Idaho? Gov. Kristi Noem, R-SD.?
But for the moment, DeSantis heads the booboisie class. He recently named an anti-vax, anti-mask doctor as Florida’s surgeon general, a profound statement of contempt for his constituents, but a bold headline nevertheless, likely the gesture’s intended purpose.
School kids are the latest cohort of COVID victims. Representatives of the American Pediatrics Association testified before Congress last week that an estimated 5 million school children under the age of 12 have contracted the coronavirus, most of them from exposure to unvaccinated adults.
Several school systems in the Baltimore region, notably Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Carrol Counties as well as Baltimore City, have reported sudden increases of COVID cases among students.
Hospitals are overcrowded and nurses are in short supply. In fact, Gov. Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington State, warned the governor of Idaho to stop “clogging up” his state’s hospitals with Idaho’s COVID victims as the surging body count is denying space to patients who need serious and immediate surgery and critical care attention.
The Biden administration has been equally slipshod in its handling of pandemic information, often setting unattainable goals and phantasmagorical numbers, and its various agencies and departments releasing contradictory and confusing guidance as they try to slay the menacing plague.
Yet it is unconscionable that elected officials would, out of ignorance, arrogance, stubbornness or just plain political ambition, deliberately mislead gullible people toward serious illness, even death. It’s only a mask, for crying out loud, and a momentary pinch.
The very same benighted folks probably wouldn’t hesitate to ingest a vermicide on the advice of a talk show host or don a mask at Halloween. Go figure.
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