In looking through some old local newspapers last week, I tripped across a story that echoes today.
In early April 1955, The Jackson Herald announced that the (then) new Salk polio vaccine would soon be available in the community.
The initial push for the polio vaccine was done through the local school systems and aimed at first and second graders. Schools sent home permission forms for students' parents to sign.
Immediately, 80% of first and second graders had the form signed. Within a week, that shot up to 95%. The vaccine was free for those children.
The school systems provided busses to take students to local vaccination sites where volunteer doctors administered the shots. In Jefferson, that site was the old club house. In Commerce, it was at the Women's Club House.
The county health department and the county school superintendent coordinated the Salk vaccine effort, which kicked off on Monday, April 25, 1955. Three shots were required, spread several weeks apart. (Outside of first and second graders, other children could get the three-shot vaccine regime through their local doctor at a cost of around $15 for all three injections.)
The following week, the newspaper published two large photos of local children lined up to get their vaccine shots.
Fast forward to today.
If local school systems were to organize vaccinations for children to fight Covid, the radical anti-vaxxers would raise hell.
You couldn't get 95% of parents to sign anything to do with Covid in today's environment, an environment that has politicized and polarized medical information for partisan purposes.
Local school leaders have to tread lightly on mask mandates or discussions about vaccines least they hit a cultural tripwire.
Although Georgia has long required a number of vaccines for children to attend public schools, any talk of a Covid vaccine mandate would be slammed as being communistic pushed by demon Democrats who want to control everyone's life.
I'll bet most readers here didn't know that on July 1, the state began mandating that all rising 11th graders get a booster shot of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4).
You missed that medical mandate because nobody cares about other vaccines. But Covid-related discussions have become nothing but political, the science and facts be damned.
Which brings us to this: The anti-vaccine movement associated with Covid has a large strain of anti-government rhetoric intertwined with it. It's not just about medicine or science, it's about politics and the rising tide of anti-government sentiment in the country.
The issue is framed as being about "freedom" and the "right to choose."
But that's just the paper wrapping. Underneath is a deep anti-government feeling that has bled from the fringes of society into the mainstream. For a lot of people, anything the government does or says has become suspect.
I saw that in a newspaper column from another Georgia town where a guy declared we're all being lied to: "Pick a topic," he wrote. "We're not being told the truth."
He blamed the media. He blamed Democrats. He blamed the CDC. He blamed Big Tech. In his view, we're all victims of a giant conspiracy to mislead the nation and to "make us obey."
Within his diatribe, he took off on the Covid vaccine, questioned its effectiveness and declared that the government is withholding information.
In that same newspaper, a letter to the editor declared the Covid vaccine as being "experimental deadly" and that the virus isn't spread in the air, but from the hands. That writer, too, spouted anti-government talking points.
That newspaper also suggested, in a photo cutline, that a neighboring county which had a mask mandate in its schools was "smothering children from fresh air and smiles..."
To a large segment of the population, we're all just victims of a conspiracy concocted by the government, media and big tech to control us and Covid is just a scare tactic designed to "make us obey."
That's what many, many people honestly believe.
But it's not really logical.
If we're going to fight against Covid masking or vaccine mandates as being anti-freedom, then maybe we should also fight against government rules that say we have to wear a seatbelt in a car, or wear a helmet to ride a motorcycle.
If the government is overstepping its authority by saying we should wear a mask or get vaccinated, then isn't it overstepping its authority when it tells us to wear a seatbelt? Shouldn't that be our "choice?" Shouldn't we have the right to kill ourselves by getting tossed out of a car at 70 mph?
And what about zoning rules — if we don't want government encouraging masking or vaccinations during a deadly pandemic, then shouldn't we be against zoning rules that tell us how we can use our property? Shouldn't we allow large warehouses to be built next to subdivisions because, well, that's the property owner's right? Shouldn't we let large subdivisions be built anywhere developers want to build them without having to get a rezoning?
More to the point, if vaccines are just a personal "choice," then shouldn't we do away with all vaccine mandates for school children?
And if we're going to celebrate "choice," shouldn't we extend that to the controversial abortion issue and get the government out of that medical decision by patients and their doctors?
The vaccine issue has become more relevant in recent weeks as the Delta variant has become the dominate strain. Like most viruses, Covid has mutated over the last 15 months and the Delta strain is more virulent than its predecessors.
According to published reports, it is 25 times more contagious than the early strains of Covid, making it easier to transmit and to get. It has higher viral loads that appear to make people sicker. It seems to affect younger people more than the earlier strains. And the Delta variant seems to infect even vaccinated people, although those people tend to have milder symptoms and less hospitalization than those who are unvaccinated.
None of this is really shocking or totally unexpected. The flu virus mutates every year, which is why we have to get updated flu shots each season. And no vaccine is 100% effective.
But we thought when the vaccine became available, it would help wipe out Covid and we could all go back to living our normal lives.
Because so many people refuse to get the vaccine, however, Covid continues to mutate and spread.
Locally, we're not doing well on this point. Banks County has the lowest vaccination rate in North Georgia at just 23%. Jackson County is at 35%. Both are far below the overall state and national rates. And some local citizens have celebrated the low local rates on social media, bragging about the area being among the lowest in Georgia.
There are two ways to look at all of this.
On the one hand, we could just sit back and let the virus roar. Let Covid infect the unvaccinated — if they survive, they will have gotten some immunity and thus contribute to the overall "herd immunity" necessary to end the pandemic. If they die, well, that was their "choice."
The other view is to increasingly isolate the unvaccinated through more mandates. Some governments and private businesses are starting to impose vaccine mandates. The idea is to make it difficult for the unvaccinated to work or travel so that they will have an incentive to get the vaccine.
The big unknown is what will Covid look like if it continues to mutate because of low vaccination rates? Will it find a way around our current vaccines and become more lethal? Will it mutate so that it is more virulent in children and young adults?
The longer the virus hangs around and spreads unchecked, the more likely it is to mutate in ways we cannot predict. It could get less serious — or it could become another plague and kill millions.
Those medical questions should transcend politics. But I doubt that will happen.
Those who believe all the anti-vaccine nonsense they see on social media will continue to not get vaccinated. Because of their "choice," the rest of us will have to continue altering our lives in attempts to avoid getting sick.
In 1955, the community worked together to stop polio. A vast majority of parents didn't question the medical doctors who had created that vaccine or those who administered it. People in 1955 didn't spread stupid rumors that it would make someone magnetic. People back then didn't believe the vaccine was a plot by the government to control their lives. And because people believed in the science and trusted their medical professionals, there is no more polio in the country and it has mostly been eradicated around the world.
Times have changed since 1955. In 2021, the community has largely embraced not getting vaccinated as a way to give a middle finger to the government and to all the "elite" doctors who created Covid vaccines.
Nope, the anti-government folks ain't gonna get vaccinated and their political "choice" is going to give all of us many more months of health care hell.