By Illustrations by 
Sixty-five years ago, in 1955, I was diagnosed with polio. I was two years old, so I was unaware of what it meant to have been infected with the poliovirus, but I became more aware of it in subtle ways as I got older. And at some point, I understood what my mother meant when she said I was “one of the lucky ones.”
Among my childhood memories, getting the oral polio vaccine is as vivid as the classroom drills that taught us to seek safety under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. While I can now joke about how sturdy school desks must have been back then, there’s no amusement in my recollection of lining up outside the local firehouse for the Sabin sugar cube — that was serious, important business. I knew it then, and I know it now.
Now, as the novel coronavirus makes its way across the world, I feel a renewed gratitude for what it means to be one of the lucky ones — and a deeper understanding of how terrifying life was for many people six decades ago. As a 67-year-old former smoker, I’m among those now considered vulnerable — I have two adult children to keep reminding me of that — but I’m also among the privileged. My wife and I are able to work from home, we live in a single-family house with creature comforts, and we can afford to practice social distancing with little sacrifice.
When Jonas Salk announced the success of his historic vaccine trial in April 1955, there was widespread acceptance of the need for mass immunizations. At some point in the future, a modern-day Salk or Albert Sabin will emerge to announce a vaccine to control the spread of COVID-19. But it’s anyone’s guess how widely accepted that vaccine will be.
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