Allegheny County has a historic opportunity to again influence global public health.
About 62 years ago, the Salk vaccine discovered here changed the world. It has since saved tens of millions of lives and may in the months ahead sentence polio to the dustbin of history — joining smallpox, also eradicated.
When the Salk vaccine was announced, church bells rang throughout the land, President Dwight D. Eisenhower openly cried with tears of joy. Polio, this horrible disease, could be prevented.
The Jewish Healthcare Foundation and the Eye and Ear Foundation are assisting Karen Hacker, M.D., director of the Allegheny County Health Department, in taking on the challenge of mandatory HPV vaccination, requiring those entering seventh grade to be HPV-vaccinated. What we do in Allegheny County will set the pace for other counties, the state and hopefully the nation.
Regarding polio, there were about 50 cases this past year. Despot naysayers in war-torn and impoverished nations profess that the polio vaccine is a Western conspiracy, with dire side effects. Such naysayers have been around for more than six decades. HPV vaccination will invite naysayers as well.
Let’s have the political courage and vision — knowing 30,000 lives per year could be spared — to support this mandate and have Allegheny County again assume leadership in preventing certain gynecological and oral cancers. Vaccines are the gold standard in preventing disease, and we have one for HPV. We know the way and hopefully can muster the will. May the bells ring again.
GEORGE A. FECHTER
Eye and Ear Foundation