Richard Swerdlow: A Sweet Vaccine

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Children are the next frontier in the vaccination saga, and Richard Swerdlow says protections for kids can’t come soon enough.

I was five years old in 1962, but I still remember how happy my parents were that I was eating sugar. That may sound strange to today's parents, but this sugar was more than just sugar. Inside the sugar cube was a dose of polio vaccine.

In the 1950's, the polio virus infected thousands every year. Like COVID, many who got polio had mild symptoms and recovered. But a small number died or suffered paralysis. Like COVID, the contagious nature of polio was terrifying, and those stricken by the virus were placed in isolation and on ventilators. But when vaccinations were rolled out, infections dropped dramatically, and by 1994, polio was considered eradicated in the United States.

I may have been only five, but when that polio vaccine became available, the collective relief was obvious even to me, a kindergartner.

And kindergartners in 2021 may one day have the same memories, since it seems only a matter of time before COVID vaccines will be required for school.


As a teacher, this news has me breathing a sigh of relief beneath my mask. Although kids are at less risk for serious COVID, thousands have been hospitalized and more than 800 have died. We shouldn't add one single number to those grim statistics.

But here's another grim statistic. In an October survey, about one in three parents say they are not planning to vaccinate their children. I understand concerns about these new vaccines, but millions of doses have proven they're safe and effective.

And shots for kids are nothing new. Schools already require vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, chickenpox and - yes - polio. It's good news the COVID vaccine can be added to the list of ways we protect kids.

Vaccines ended the polio epidemic, and they can end COVID, too. For everyone's sake, please get your kids vaccinated. And I hope one day their vaccine memory will be as sweet as mine.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow is a San Francisco teacher.