How Short Our Memories Are
November 02, 2012
There has been a lot of debate in recent years over whether or not kids should be vaccinated. Many parents today are opting out because of a fear over increased risk for conditions like autism. Whether people choose to vaccinate or not, there does appear to be mass amnesia over the times before these drugs were available. This is amazing considering the fact that diseases like polio were still terrifying the country just over fifty years ago.
If you are looking for a good reminder of that time and place, there is a wonderful book by Kathryn Lasky called Chasing Orion. This sometimes haunting story is the tale of Georgie and her older brother Emmett, who are forced to confront the reality of polio after moving in next door Phyllis. A once healthy girl, she is now confined to the horror of an iron lung in which she has little hope of ever leaving. Phyllis’ situation will end up affecting Georgie and Emmett in ways they could never have imagined. And, an astonishing request by Phyllis will end up challenging their very beliefs about life and friendship.
This book, set in 1952 Indiana, evokes the paranoia and terror of that time as everybody wonders who will be the next child afflicted. Today, it is hard to imagine schools, theaters, and swimming pools shutting down or being terrified of letting your kids out in crowds. Possible epidemics seem to be caught so early that many simply have no memory of the horror of those days not so long past. Even the AIDS crisis, which is technically still going on, seems to have been put in the back of most people’s minds.
Chasing Orion beautifully recreates the heartbreaking events and the tense atmosphere that permeated this era. This would only end when Salk’s polio vaccine became available. It is probably hard for most modern parents to comprehend the number of people who lined up to give their kids a vaccine that had yet to be truly proven safe and effective. But the fact that parents did take that risk is a good reminder to us all that we should not take for granted that any of the diseases we believe to have permanently taken out are really gone forever.
Whooping cough and measles cases are on the rise. Could diseases like polio come back again? And how would we react to them today? This book makes sure that we don’t forget the good that vaccines have done.