Ken Plum: Be smart about immunizations

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In elementary school I was given along with everyone else a stiff cardboard with ten slots that each held one thin dime. A dollar was a lot of money at the time, but everyone worked hard to fill their card that the March of Dimes assured us would provide money for research to end the feared disease of polio that was affecting more than 45,000 persons each year leaving many dead and others paralyzed. One of the most famous victims of the disease was Franklin Roosevelt who went on to become President of the United States four times even though he had to wear heavy leg braces to stand because of polio.

In 1955 research and the aspirations of the March of Dimes paid off as Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine against polio. Children in Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, were selected to kick off a nationwide Polio vaccine program aimed at finally eradicating what was one of the most dreaded diseases ever. The number of polio cases fell rapidly to less than 100 in the 1960s and fewer than 10 in the 1970s and is now considered to be eradicated in this country.

There are many other instances where the discovery of vaccines has eradicated diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list fourteen such diseases with some more familiar than others: chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, flu, tetanus, rubella, and others. (

Governor Ralph Northam declared August to be Immunization Awareness Month in Virginia to recognize that “vaccines are proven to be an exceptionally safe method in preventing disease, as they are thoroughly tested before licensing and carefully monitored to ensure continued safety” and “to encourage all vaccines to be administered…” That encouragement is of course directed to those persons who have not taken one of the vaccines that provide protection against COVID-19 and its variants.

For those of us who lived through the polio threat and the other many childhood diseases that have been eliminated with vaccinations are left scratching our heads at the number of people who are taken in by the misinformation that has been spread about the COVID vaccines. In my mind the campaigns against the vaccines are immoral and can be easily shown to be dishonest. The latest surge of the Delta variant among persons who have not been vaccinated should provide proof of the importance of vaccination. An increasing number of bedside pleas from unvaccinated persons now nearing death who are advising others to get vaccinated may be enough to sway some of the hardest deniers.

The VA Department of Health has a wonderful website,, about immunizations with a schedule of ages when various vaccinations are to be administered. While many of these are for children and are necessary for school attendance, some such as tetanus and flu are advisable for adults. Seasonal flu shots are now available and should be taken in addition to a COVID-19 vaccination. As individuals and as a community, we need to be smart about vaccinations.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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