Newsreels in movie theatres showed children encased in large oversized chambers with only their heads poking out. The fate of these children was dire, and The March of Dimes was soliciting donations to forward the work to create a polio vaccine. Both Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin worked to develop vaccines — one with a dead virus and one, in a liquid, attenuated form. Unfortunately, the Sabin form meant those vaccinated with it could spread the virus to others for a period of time.
How was Salk’s vaccine received? Researchers said it was “junk science” and tended to dismiss it, favoring the live virus from Sabin’s lab. Not only was Salk’s vaccine safer, but it was also quickly manufactured and readily available to the public. But the dueling virus controversy lasted until the 1990s when Sabin’s vaccine was discontinued because it could infect others.
The Salk vaccine was involved in an unprecedented 1.8 million children in a human experiment to test its effectiveness. Salk had already tested the vaccine on himself and his family, and none developed polio.
The problem with the notable presence of the polio virus in NYC wastewater is that other countries worldwide still use the Sabin vaccine. Traveling and being vaccinated abroad means the virus has carriers that, unwittingly, bring the virus back to the US. Once here, it quickly enters the wastewater system and can spread the virus to the unvaccinated.
How many know about the 1949 polio epidemic that swept the nation and placed infants in iron lungs? The huge tubes, in short supply, were airlifted from location to location as the virus spread with unprecedented speed, striking the nation’s young. A complete explanation of the virus and how it attacks the body can be viewed here.
From 1916–1919, over two thousand people in New York City, primarily in Brooklyn, died from polio infection, which, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, drove people to cities where they were packed into poor living situations, a lack of nutrition led to disease and sewage quickly carried the virus into homes.
Does that sound familiar? Is wastewater carrying the virus throughout apartment buildings and into homes? Yes, it can last up to one week in those situations. Infection is as close as your sewer system. Other viruses can still live on surfaces, including clothing and towels.
What other virus is being discovered anew in the sewage systems of the US and abroad? Yes, it’s Covid-19, and just like polio, the human waste in the sewage systems carries the virus to distant areas from its origin in someone’s home. As I write, New York state has to combat both polio and Covid-19 in its wastewater.
Up to 30 percent of those infected have no symptoms, and therein lies the main problem. If someone isn’t sick, they don’t think they need to be vaccinated or take steps to protect others by keeping a safe distance or wearing a mask.
The Covid-19 virus has mutated as all viruses do, and the new iterations present new challenges. These mutations have managed to either disguise themselves or, in other ways, avoid the body’s immune system protection and the vaccines that depend on this for our safety.
To ward off the iterations, new innoculations will continue to be needed and, conceivably, into the future. Each fall will bring a new-and-improved vaccine for the still mutating viruses. Viruses don’t stop mutating.
Those who have received misinformation about vaccines and refuse to be vaccinated will continue to present agreeable hosts for the viruses while endangering others.
Politics and business have failed to adequately address this enduring danger in a wish to reassure the general public and get all of us back to business. In my opinion, the CDC’s efforts have been poor, and a shuffling of management has already begun.