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Man with Polio Tells Anti-Vaxers to Stop Putting Us All at Risk

Brookings neighbor Mark Sternhagen rides a wheelchair because he missed out on a vaccine when he was young and contracted polio. Sternhagen lets misinformed anti-vaccination radicals have it with this letter to the editor that’s been making the rounds of the South Dakota papers:

OK, anti-vaxers, I have had it with you! I have watched as you arrogantly refuse to vaccinate your children. You always have some sort of excuse, like how it is big pharma making money. Well guess what? They make more money off sick people than off well people, so that holds no water. Dr. Jonas Salk, who pioneered the Salk polio vaccine that has literally saved millions of children and families from the heartbreak of polio, never patented the vaccine. When asked why, he said, “How would you patent the sun?” Polio cannot be cured, it can only be prevented by vaccination. Many say just use common sense, wash your hands, etc. The polio virus laughs at that your naiveté.

There are many who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. If they come in contact with your arrogance they could die.

I knew the kids who were permanently deaf or blind from the measles. I have firsthand knowledge of what it is like to have polio. The vaccine was in short supply when I was young, and I contracted polio. I have lived with that my whole life, and while I have always managed to make the most of what I had rather than dwell on what might have been, I cannot understand how you could willfully, arrogantly put your child in danger of having to spend their whole life disabled, or die long before their time because of a completely preventable disease like polio.

I wonder how you will live with yourself if your child is disabled or dies from a preventable disease [Mark T. Sternhagen, letter to the editor, first printed in that Sioux Falls paper, 2019.04.25].

If all that would happen from anti-vaccination hysteria was some healthy natural selection culling out the folks who don’t properly respect science, the anti-vaxer problem would over time take care of itself. But as Sternhagen points out, people who ignore science and don’t vaccinate their kids put sensible parents’ kids at risk, too.

Vaccination opponents have brought back measles. South Dakota counties aren’t at much risk yet; the places with the highest risk of measles outbreaks this year are Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, and Seattle. Of course, there will be no risk if everyone who can get shots gets shots.


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-05-13 09:39

    VACCINES ARE HARMFUL!! … to disease. CDC has tools to stop anti-vaxxers, you know. First is quarantine of the unvaccinated who pose substantial risk to others.

  2. John Dale 2019-05-13 09:46

    Washing hands and sewer treatment also contributed to the eradication of disease. I saw a graphic once depicting the timeline. The vaccines always came at the end of significant technological advancement in cleanliness and eradication of disease.

    Over generations, do vaccines make the human immune system generally weaker?

    I’m still stuck on the logical paradox of the pro vaccination movement: if Vaccines work, why are you worried about whether my kids are vaccinated? You just have concern for my kids?

    The real thrust of the anti-vaccine movement is that the vaccines are tainted. Have you ever read the MMR insert (not just the handout)? Also, like 5G, there are no public safety tests and the makers of vaccines are *cough* immune from prosecution.

    These reasons are why the debate still rages. It’s not a death wish.

    I think these issues must be more adequately addressed by vaccine profiteers before the anti-vaccine community will come around.

    I personally believe that the polio vaccine worked (the 2nd generation oral version, not the original version that actually made a lot of people very sick).

  3. Mark T. Sternhagen 2019-05-13 10:07

    The Salk vaccine is 100% There was an early incident, the Cutter incident, in which tainted vaccine, tainted with active live virus got out. This was extremely isolated and the complete fault of Cutter Labs in CA. They did NOT follow proper protocol. If your unvaccinated children contract a preventable disease then come in contact with someone who’s system is compromised they could die because of your unvaccinated children.

    Washing your hands is a good thing, however that will not prevent viruses like the polio virus from spreading, in fact is part of the reason it became epidemic.

    These are all verified facts. From actual doctors and Scientists.

  4. Porter Lansing 2019-05-13 10:11

    John Dale is doing the work of Russian influencers by sowing fear and disinformation in South Dakota.
    – Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.
    RT America, a network known for sowing disinformation, has a new alarm: the coming ‘5G Apocalypse.’
    ~ The Russian network RT America aired the segment, titled “A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity,’” in covering what its guest experts call 5G’s dire health threats. U.S. intelligence agencies identified the network as a principal meddler in the 2016 presidential election. Now, it is linking 5G signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support.
    Yet even as RT America, the cat’s paw of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has been doing its best to stoke the fears of American viewers, Mr. Putin, on Feb. 20, ordered the launch of Russian 5G networks in a tone evoking optimism rather than doom.

  5. bearcreekbat 2019-05-13 10:33

    John Dale’s comment becomes untrustworthy and upon reflection downright disingenuous by asking:

    if Vaccines work, why are you worried about whether my kids are vaccinated? You just have concern for my kids?

    Cory’s story answered this nonsensical question twice. First the letter points out:

    There are many who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. If they come in contact with your arrogance they could die.

    And then Cory’s article follows up:

    But as Sternhagen points out, people who ignore science and don’t vaccinate their kids put sensible parents’ kids at risk, too.

    Such obvious wilful blindness or downright dishonesty by John Dale suggests that Porter’s theory could have merit.

  6. grudznick 2019-05-13 21:15

    Isn’t Ms. Hubbel a nurse, yet she clamps her tinfoil hat tight on that pretty little head and screams at the night about vaccines. The anti-vaxers, under the grudznick law bills, would be tied to a plank and tickled until they pee their britches and then forced to undergo needle sticks.

  7. Debbo 2019-05-13 23:19

    Just yesterday the Strib had a story about a child, 7-8 yo now I think, who’s on her 2nd heart transplant due to a random birth defect. Each autumn on the first day of school the girl’s mother sends a letter home with each child in class. She wants to know their vaccination status because her daughter’s life depends on them all being vaccinated and healthy. All the anti- organ rejection meds the girl takes leaves her nearly without a functioning immune system. If the unvaccinated children of pro-plaguers catch something like mumps, measles, etc., they may kill that little girl.

    If you want to strengthen your immune system, eat sh*t and don’t die. We had an entertaining discussion about this on FB. Farm and ranch kids have the best immune systems because we ate sh*t, dirt, wool, bugs, animal hair and everything else, whether we wanted to or not.

    So John Fake Dale, now you know what to do. Get yourself and your family vaccinated, then y’all find a neighborhood farm and offer to clean out the barn. I’m betting the farmer will let you. Once a week ought to be a good rate for the first year till you get your immune systems built up, then you can switch to monthly.

    Have fun!

  8. Donald Pay 2019-05-14 11:09

    This John Dale question interests me: “Over generations, do vaccines make the human immune system generally weaker?”

    The assumption here is that the human immune system would evolve to be weaker due the fact that vaccinations would allow people with weaker immune responses to survive to reproductive age, and their offspring and subsequent offspring would pass on these weaker immune responses to a greater proportion of the population. The problem with that argument is that vaccinations also allow people with normal immune responses to live to reproductive age, and they are by far the largest proportion in the population. And, there is this: sometimes it is normal immune responses which creates the problem that causes death.

    As a general rule, you want a good mix of these different traits in a population, because you never know which strategy is going to ultimately the best.

    This argument against vaccination, of course, is also an argument against all health care, all sanitary sewer systems, all forms of hygiene involving soap. It just doesn’t make much sense.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-14 12:31

    Good responses, Donald and BCB, to John D’s questions. Don’t get lost in evolutionary speculations: vaccinations make the immune systems of living breathing children stronger right now. Healthy living children are stronger than sick or dead children.

    As Donald notes at the end, if we commit ourselves to some abstract notion of letting human evolution run by pure natural selection, we would shut down every hospital, stop making any medicine, stop setting any broken bones, and stop any sort of technological intervention against any illness or injury.

  10. Porter Lansing 2019-05-14 13:20

    A study was released in response to children becoming immune to the strength of antibiotics from being over prescribed. The scientists discovered that not getting enough dirt and germs as a kid (you know…what Debbo said about farm kids having fewer allergies) was harmful. One recommendation was to stop using dishwashers, at least most of the time. Sterilized dishes didn’t transfer useful germs to kid’s guts. So, I tried it. The first month or so my gut was often upset and sometimes hurt. After the germs started to be accepted I felt better than before. I still wash most dishes by hand. My mom never had a dishwashing machine all her life but her sisters did. In general I was healthier than my cousins but that’s not a valid study; just an observation.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-14 19:35

    A fair observation, Porter… but while I ask my biologically/medically better-trained readers to weigh in, I daresay you’re actually making a case for vaccination.

    Playing in the dirt exposes kids to mild amounts of germs, amounts usually too low to kill but strong enough to stimulate the immune system and help the body build stronger defenses. It’s just like lifting weights: you don’t try to lift a truck and blow your back or knees out, but you want enough weight to tear your muscles just a little bit, stimulating production of new, stronger muscle.

    Vaccines do the same thing. We expose kids to a weak dose of measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whatever disease we’re targeting. The immune system goes, “Holy crap! Measles! Get ’em!” It figures out how to beat that weaker virus, and then when it meets a stronger version of that virus in the wild, the immune system goes, “Oh, I know you! Pow!” and has a much better chance of beating the disease.

    I don’t know why it didn’t hit me sooner, but that’s the proper response to John D’s concern: vaccination makes the immune system stronger.

  12. grudznick 2019-05-14 19:51

    I agree with Mr. Lansing’s wisdom that eating a bit of bugs and dirt never hurt anybody and makes kids tougher. I almost never wash my hands, and when you shake with grudznick at breakfast you will benefit from my stout constitution, too.

  13. Porter Lansing 2019-05-14 22:57

    I’m 100% for vaccinations. But, vaccinations don’t do it all. Children raised in squeaky clean environments need germs. Without germs to fight, the immune system weakens. I don’t mean measles, mumps, rubella and polio germs. I mean the germs from normal life. Like drinking out of a hose. The germs that naturally live in a kitchen. The germs your dog brings in. Those types of common germs are important. As a chef the Denver health department banned antibacterial soap from commercial kitchens and I do the same at home. It kills too many germs and some are necessary. Especially for kitchen workers, who unlike the semi-clean grudznick wash their hands about a hundred times in eight hours. Too clean leads to improper tolerance to antibiotics, when and if you really need them.

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