For a retired pediatrician, the present discussion about vaccinations after the Disneyland measles outbreak brings back a deluge of memories. How times and, yes, people have changed.
I started my pediatric training in an emergency [department] in July 1954, in Philadelphia. Each day we saw between 2 and 5 patients, sitting in the tripod position on the examination table with obvious poliomyelitis. Following a quick lumbar puncture to rule out bacterial disease, each [patient] was checked for evidence of paralysis, and if none was evident, [he or she was] sent home, with instructions to return immediately if any limb weakness occurred. Like in all the previous summers, the city and parents were in a panic. “Stay out of crowds! Don’t go to the swimming pools!” screamed the headlines in the newspaper.
Later that year, I was called up by the US Air Force (Korea) and spent 2 years overseas as a flight surgeon. During those 2 years, the Salk polio vaccine became available, and soon thereafter Sabin’s oral polio vaccine came out—those wonderful sugar cubes with the pink drops on them. In my first year in practice, we had mass community oral polio vaccinations. People were fighting to get in line to get the drops for themselves and their children. Since those 2 years in the Air Force, I have seen only 1 patient with paralytic polio—an unvaccinated child of immigrant parents from Mexico. What a wonderful change!
During my pediatric training, I spent time at the old Philadelphia General Hospital infectious disease wards. Each ward had between 20 and 30 children. One ward was for diphtheria. Each day some of these children died, and new ones [were] admitted. The other 2 wards were for the “whoopers” and the “poopers”—whooping cough and severe diarrhea. The DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and acellular Pertussis) and rotavirus vaccines have made these wards obsolete.
I started my private pediatric practice in 1959. During the winter months, I would see at least 2 to 5 cases of measles, 3 of chicken pox, and an occasional child with German measles (rubella) or mumps daily. Each month I admitted, and treated in hospital, at least 1 case of bacterial spinal meningitis and epiglottitis—deadly diseases now almost unknown. Pneumococcal sepsis in babies was common then, and often fatal.
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