Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Americans were scared of polio vaccine too

Walter Winchell
    My father once said that people were kinder when he was a boy.
     I couldn’t let that slow pitch by without swinging.
     “This era of kindness of which you speak,” I replied. “Is it the Great Depression or World War II? Because I just don’t see it.”
     He had no answer. Nostalgic types never do, those who romanticize the past, being ignorant of the bulk of it. They mistake what they personally experienced, or think they experienced, for what everyone else went through. It’s not the same.
     I wish I could cure them of this bad habit. Because believing the past was better makes our awful present seem even worse. Not only are there shootings on the expressways, but back in the day we’d sleep in the park in summer and fear no man. Pretty to think so.
     So I take a certain satisfaction in recalling the horrors of the past. When people talk of an unprecedented fracture in our nation that is more divided than ever, I’ll mutter, “Well, there was the Civil War. That was worse.”
     Or this vaccine business. One reader commented Monday: “We are unfortunately, dealing with outright morons in our society at this moment, something that didn’t happen in the 1950s, when I remember lining up for the polio vaccine, which everyone & I do mean everyone hailed as a flat out miracle.”
     Not quite everyone. Reading that, the machine-gun staccato of Walter Winchell’s voice barked into mind.

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  1. So you found one man that opposed the Salk vaccine. He had little to no effect on the public's acceptance of the vaccine, as the fear of polio was so great, that people ignored such baseless attacks.
    Winchell was already on his way down at that time, as his constant support of Sen. Joe McCarthy finally made people realize what a truly rotten person he was.
    He was a self hating Jew who spent hours at The Stork Club in Manhattan, which was owned by a vicious anti-Semite named Sherman Billingsley. I still remember that from Neil Gabler's bio of him.
    His last hurrah, was probably narrating The Untouchables TV series.
    When he finally died in 1972, the only person that showed up for his funeral was his daughter.

    1. I remember his Sunday night show in the early days of TV. I was just a little kid in the early Fifties, but that staccato delivery was unforgettable. PBS did an excellent bio of him on its "American Experience" series. It ran last winter.

      I recorded it and watched it a couple of times. He was a real bastard. A total a-hole, who ruined many lives and careers. The longer you watched the story of his life, the more you hated his guts. He would have loved Orangy the Clown.

      Did Lush Rimjob base his on-air persona on Winchell? I'm a proud lifelong Democrat who never listened to that POS for even one minute, so I don't really know..and I'm asking those who did.

  2. "which everyone & I do mean everyone hailed..." It's human to cling to error, and I won't upbraid you Clark St. But it's not a laudable quality, especially not here. You seem to have skipped over the 150,000 kids being yanked out of the study part. And the whole point of the column, which I appreciate your zealous misremembering of history for inspiring. The only wisdom is humility, as T.S. Eliot wrote.

    1. Winchell was even blasted by Albert Sabin, who had been against Salk's killed live vaccine. Sabin called him irresponsible.
      The 150,000 pulled out were due to Cutter Labs in Berkeley Cal., which screwed up killing the virus & ended up shipping live polio virus, which gave people polio & even killed a few people. But it was only the Cutter Labs vaccine that was bad!
      This Slate article lays it all out.
      I fully stand by what I wrote, that other than a few crackpots like Winchell, almost everyone was in favor of getting vaccinated, which included me, waiting in line at school, for the nurse with the jet injector putting it against our arms & pulling the trigger.
      A few years later we lined up to get a sugar cube with Sabin's vaccine.

  3. Great column. I think when people reflect on the past they selectively remember what is comforting, not remembering what was not good. Glad you dug this up because I thought not everything could have been perfect back then and so screwed up now. Although people arguably say Lincoln was the greatest president, not so sure that would have been such a good time to be alive and living in the United States.

    1. A hundred or 150 years from now, people are going to say the same thing about our present era...the Soaring Twenties. Will they talk about it as we talk about the 1850s, and the run-up to Civil War 1.0? Or will they shake their heads and feel sorry for us...and probably for themselves...because we blew it all up and self-destructed in Version 2.0?

      Time will tell, and the clock is ticking, as we get closer and closer to the edge of the abyss. I'm glad I'm not young anymore. Hope I'm forgotten dust when...and not if...the wheels come off, and the train finally leaves the rails.

  4. Quite a good --and exhaustive-- essay on the Anti-vax movement by someone called Tara Haelle in today's New York Times.



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