Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Google's celebration of Jonas Salk makes a timely point

Google Doodles are well-known for hot political and social issues. A couple of years ago, their July 4th homepage was all about internet freedom. During the Sochi Winter Games, they doodled their defiance of Russia's anti-gay laws.

Today, they ran a comic that celebrates the 100th birthday of Jonas Salk, father of the polio vaccine.

So, what's controversial about that?

When my mom was a kid, polio was one of the biggest fears of every parent and child. One of her best friends, and next door neighbour, caught the disease. The disease could cause paralysis, sometimes permanently, and could result in being confined to an iron lung. In the worst cases, people died. Neil Young is among many celebrity survivors.

Although the disease is making a comeback in some parts of the world, polio is one of those diseases, like smallpox, measles, diphtheria and pertussis, that were no longer considered common threats to childhood health by the time I was growing up. And that was thanks to vaccines and public immunization programmes.

But the "anti-vax" movement, a loose conglomeration of people who have religious, pseudoscientific, or other non-medical objections to vaccines, has been gaining steam. No thanks to celebrity non-scientists like Jenny McCarthy, preventable outbreaks of things like measles are on the rise.

Dr. Salk, by the way, is also celebrated for his selflessness. He forfeited billions of dollars by refusing to patent the polio vaccine.

Now that another flu season is on its way, the push is on to vaccinate as many people as possible against it. Each year, approximately 3,500 Canadians die from the flu. But the flu shot can prevent up to 80% of flu infections in healthy individuals.

While we're waiting for that ebola vaccine, maybe it would be a good idea to get vaccinated against a disease that is statistically more likely to hospitalize or kill you. And say a silent thanks to Dr. Salk and all the other scientists who have made modern life much less scary.

Thanks to David for pointing me to this nice bit of public health advocacy.


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