New York City, NY — As two teens in New York City, we often hear about current events through watching the news, reading articles online or through social media. We recently learned that polio was in the city’s sewage. According to the CDC, polio “is a disabling and potentially deadly disease. It is caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis (can’t move parts of the body).”
While we learned in our high school history classes about poliovirus through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s polio diagnosis, we also heard about what polio was through our grandfather, Daniel Lubetkin, who was born in 1931. He grew up nearby New York City in Newark, NJ, and remembered the days when polio was a serious worry among his peers and family.
“When you looked at the advertisements about polio, they showed little children and big iron lungs,” our grandfather said. He went on to explain how “children had all types of paralysis.” He said his parents did not allow him to go to movies, and local swimming pools were not allowed as they were “considered sources of infection.” Polio is very contagious. Public swimming pools were closed in Newark during the hot summer, so fire hydrants were opened to get the water out. He said “we would jump on the water,” and “that was the way to cool off.”
This reminded us of the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March when we were unsure if we could be in public spaces due to the possibility of exposure. Ilena Moses, our friend in Los Angeles who is in the 11th grade, felt as we did.
“There was this distinct sense of novelty to the first couple of weeks of quarantine. We had no idea what was going on in our world, what it would mean for our lives,” Moses said.
The CDC has made it clear that the best way not to get polio is through getting the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) which has been given in America since 2000. The vaccine is a shot put in the arm or leg based on how old a person is. While the vaccine is highly recommended, 92.6% of people in America have 3 or more doses. This percentage varied based on state and county. In NYC, “86% of children ages 6 months to 5 years old have received the first three doses.” Yet, “Statewide, 79% of New Yorkers have received three doses by age 2.” This percentage is 60% in Orange and Rockland counties.
We’ve been trying to adjust to life with COVID. But couple that with possible polio infections and it is nerve wracking. We have seen less trust in public health officials such as the CDC, as well as other government institutions. As teens, we hope that the campaigns against vaccinations will not be applied to polio.