Seventy years ago, there was unfortunately such a great number of communicable diseases that there were hospitals dedicated to their treatment. In the 1950s, 95 percent of the population had been infected with the measles by age 15, with 500 deaths annually. There were also special units with iron lungs to manage those who had polio, which in 1952 alone had infected over 60,000 and caused 3,000 deaths.

I was a nursing student at a communicable disease hospital in Boston when my 5-year-old cousin Charlie was admitted. He had the measles and essentially had died on the way to the hospital. He was revived but never regained intellectual capacity nor the ability to communicate.

His family was devastated. His mother had planned on having him vaccinated before school started that fall. His parents divorced and my uncle, overwhelmed with grief, committed suicide.

Charlie’s brother, marked forever by the tragedy, is still living. Charlie has spent 60 years in a state institution except for a few unsuccesful attempts at living at home. He will be walking the grounds of the institution until his death.

Also, my husband died of polio in 1955, a year before the vaccine was public.

Those who were not exposed to witnessing the tragedies secondary to these diseases do not appreciate the great advances that vaccines have contributed to society. We do not want to regress to have to dedicate communicable disease hospitals.

 

Beverly Robbins

Gardiner

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