During the first half of the 20th century Denver was famous for its many municipal lakes and beaches. Thousands of residents and visitors spent summer afternoons sunbathing and swimming. Remnants of these can be found in the now repurposed bathhouses in Berkeley, City and Washington Parks. Denver’s beaches were closed, as they were in tens of thousands of communities across the country, following polio outbreaks after the Second World War. Paralytic poliovirus was frequently identified in the stomachs of patients and, therefore, believed to be ingested. It was hypothesized, likely incorrectly, that ponds and lakes served as reservoirs for this disease. Polio lingers today only in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Taliban claims the vaccine is designed to sterilize Muslim men.
As the Colorado Legislature considers strengthening vaccination requirements this week, it is worthwhile to consider the experience of the last generation, still with us, to grow up before vaccination science perfected inoculations against the plethora of childhood diseases. During my first three years of elementary school in Idaho Falls, Idaho, I fell victim to polio, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever and whooping cough. I only escaped the mumps. These were brutal infections requiring several months of hospital stays and bed rest. You know something is seriously amiss when you recognize your parents are frightened to death. Although I escaped polio without lingering damage, my classrooms always had a student or two wearing leg braces or suffering with wizened limbs right through college. The mother of my first girl friend, Vicki, went into the hospital the day before I did and returned home a month later with snow white hair, not yet 30.
While I’ve occasionally worried about post-polio syndrome, which can return in one’s sixth or seventh decade, I was quick to get shots against shingles — the trailing malady that frequently strikes 20 or 30 years following chicken pox. I still sport half a dozen small scars where I scratched chicken pox pustules (nurses eventually taped mittens to my wrists), so it is baffling to read that anti-vaxxer parents brag about deliberately scheduling “exposure” parties for their kids, one reputedly in Boulder. The only good news is that these children will be able to make their own decisions, as adults, in time to ward off shingles. When Ethan Lindenberger recently petitioned the Ohio Department of Health for help in obtaining vaccinations, his mother was quoted as saying, “How could Ethan do this to me?” That tells us all we need to know about her real priority.
State Rep. Kyle Mullica, of Northglenn, the Democratic hospital nurse who is attempting to tighten Colorado’s vaccination requirements, first caught my attention last fall when he appeared at a Bernie Sanders’ rally in Denver on behalf of four legislative candidates including Brianna Titone, Tom Sullivan and Emily Sirota. All went on to capture House seats in November. Although Mullica confesses he was scared to speak to such a large crowd, he offered one telling observation, “If you believe no one in America dies because they lack medical insurance, I urge you to spend a day or two on the job with me!” I am not surprised to find him pushing to tighten state vaccination requirements. Mullica’s priority is assuring public health, something he knows a lot about. House Bill 19-1312 isn’t the tough love legislation he would have preferred. In a state with the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, his bill will help round up parents who opt to take “personal-belief” exemptions rather than trouble themselves to secure vaccinations for their children. HB-1312 is intended to make the exemption process itself onerous. It will help, but is unlikely to achieve the “herd immunity” target of 95 percent immunizations required to forestall a future measles epidemic.
Mullica has run up against determined resistance from rabid Facebook/Google medical experts alleging a host of unproven horrors linked to vaccinations, while discounting the millions of lives saved over the past century. When I attended OCS, the Navy designated Tuesday morning as shot day. Every week for four months we received inoculations from high-pressure guns in each shoulder against a laundry list of diseases we might eventually encounter. There’s been a great deal of chatter at the Capitol this year regarding “evidence-based” (scientifically supported) legislation. It makes little sense to insist on the wisdom underlying 40 years of climate science while rejecting the proven value of 150 years of vaccinations. Smallpox, not war, was the most prolific killer during the 19th century. It is entirely eradicated, although my generation carries marks from childhood inoculations. If more vaccines were available then, my juvenile health record would be a lot cleaner.
Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.