monkey pee

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I read this morning that the first mass inoculation of the Salk vaccine against polio occurred on this date in 1954. The fortunate recipients were the students of Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just one year before, some 35,000 cases of polio were reported…by 1962, there were 161. And by then, the injections had been replaced by the oral vaccine, no small matter when you’re a small child.

I clearly recall standing in line, one little kid among many, waiting for that first oral polio vaccine. I had the usual trepidations, being a  covert paranoid. But what’s so scary about a few red dots on a sugar cube?

When I boarded the bus for the ride home, my big brother asked me, and I’m quite sure I remember it correctly, just how that monkey pee had tasted. So much for science, preventive health and measured thinking.

I do empathize with parents of young children struggling with the immunization decision. But having grown up at a time when more than a few grownups wore the scars of smallpox and black/white images of kids in iron lungs at Blank Children’s Hospital were all too common, I’m a biased believer.

Thank you, Jonas Salk, for making polio a thing of the past.

And, thank you, Gary Thompson, for making me suspicious of monkeys for 55 years.


3 Responses to “monkey pee”

  1. P.S. Thanks to Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac” for the polio stats. Great info and a well-selected poem daily @

  2. I, too, remember a time when the introduction of a new or more effective vaccine for the then deadly diseases our parents grew up with was met with excitement.

    Today’s parents have what seems like a luxury: living in a world they see as safe enough that they can choose not to immunize their kids. It seems a luxury to me because I know 3 people who contracted polio as kids. They survived that crippling illness but have continued to suffer with the aftereffects of post-polio syndrome.

    I hate hearing myself say, “Well, back when I was a child…” but German measles, and TB, and tetanus, and so on really were very scary in a very real way. A life and death and disabilities kind of way.

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